You Can Still Shop in the Footsteps of Regency Era Celebrities

Since so many of you enjoyed my last article on “How to Shop Like a Regency Era Gentleman,” I thought I’d tell you about a few more London shops that were selling goods back in the Regency era and are still open today.

If you’re a person who loves a good scent, you should check out Floris London, located at 89 Jermyn Street. This perfume shop was founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris and his wife Elizabeth, and it currently is still run by their descendants. Throughout the Georgian era, Floris created individual scents for their patrons and were known for their personal grooming supplies. In 1818, while living abroad, Mary Shelley wrote to her friend Thomas Love Peacock in London and asked him to send her “two hairbrushes and a small toothbrush” from Floris. In 1820, they received their first Royal Warrant as Smooth Pointed Comb Maker to King George IV.

FlorisThe first time I stepped into Floris, I was greeted by a helpful clerk behind the counter and was lucky enough to have the store to myself. While perusing their products through the wood and glass display cases that appear to be original, it was easy to imagine what a shopping experience might have been like for a Regency lady. Floris has products for men, women, and the home. If you’d like to try any of their products but can’t make it to London, you can order from Floris online.

For the bluestockings among you, a short walk around the corner from Floris to 187 Piccadilly will take you to Hatchards booksellers. During the Regency era, wealthy men and women could pick up the latest editions from their favorite authors at Hatchards. Nestled close to the popular shopping streets of the day, Hatchards is London’s oldest surviving bookshop. It was founded in 1797 by John Hatchard, and his portrait presides over the shop’s winding staircase that connects the five floors of books.

Hatchards

Hatchards
Hatchards

I will admit, this is one of my favorite places in London, and it’s featured in two of the novels I’ve written. As you walk through the store, you’ll pass the original fireplaces, dark wood paneled walls and rooms crammed with books. I can easily spend an entire day here. If you’re the type to appreciate some quality name-dropping, Queen Charlotte, the Duke of Wellington, and Lord Byron are some of the famous people who have purchased books a Hatchards.

Directly next to Hatchards is Fortnum & Mason, founded as a grocer in 1707 by Hugh Mason and William Fortnum. William was one of Queen Anne’s footmen and had the idea to sell the royal household’s half-used candles to make money. This is how Fortnum & Mason began. While the current building is not the original, the store has always been located at the corner of Duke Street and Piccadilly.

Fortnum and Mason

During the Regency era, Fortnum & Mason was known for food that was easily portable for long distance journeys. They also introduced ready-to-eat specialty items aimed at wealthy area residents. During the Napoleonic Wars, many officers ordered packaged supplies from Fortnum & Mason for a bit of comfort while out on their campaigns. These packages included tea, dried fruit, spices, and other preserves. And in 1814, the Earl of Egremont turned to Fortnum & Mason when he was entertaining the Czar of Russia. Today they are a renowned purveyor of fine food, hampers, tea, and wine. They have a number of restaurants and it’s a lovely place to go for tea.

Speaking of tea, did you know that you can still buy tea in one of Jane Austen’s favorite tea shops? Although Twinings flagship store is located outside of Mayfair and St. James, the quality of the tea was so good, that it was worth the trip. This shop was founded in 1706 and continues to occupy its original location at 216 Strand. Two Chinese men and a lion preside over the doorway just as they did in Jane Austen’s day.

Twinings front door

For the record, none of these stores contacted me to include them in this article. They just happen to be places I like to visit when I’m in London, and when I walk through these shops, I’m reminded that museums aren’t the only places you can visit to feel a sense of the past.

For more information on any of these stores, you can visit their websites:

Where Did the Fashionable Regency Gentlemen Shop?

Since I’ve been known to be a bit fond of shopping, researching where the fashionable gentlemen in my books might go to outfit themselves kept me occupied longer than it probably should have. I’ve gathered together all my notes and decided to share the highlights with you here.

Lord Granville Leveson-Gower by Thomas Lawrence, c1804-1809 (Yale Center for British Art)

Lord Granville Leveson-Gower by Thomas Lawrence, c1804-1809
(Yale Center for British Art)

During the Regency era, London tailors were considered the best in Europe. Any man who was interested in presenting himself as an arbiter of taste, let alone one of the Dandy set, knew he needed to shop in London. Two of the best-known tailors of the day were Schweitzer and Davidson of 12 Cork Street and John Weston, located at 34 Old Bond Street. Weston was known to be the most expensive tailor in London and a favorite of Beau Brummell and the Prince Regent.

Wool Broadcloth Greatcoat with Silk Velvet Trim by John Weston, 1803-1810

Wool Broadcloth Greatcoat with Silk Velvet Trim by John Weston, 1803-1810

Boots were what the fashionable man wore during the day. Hoby, on the corner of Piccadilly and St. James’s Street next to the Old Guards Club, was known as the finest boot maker in London. Their clients included George III, the Prince Regent, Lord Byron, Beau Brummell, members of the ton, and many officers in the army and navy. The Duke of Wellington thought so much of George Hoby that he worked with the boot maker to modify a Hessian boot to his specifications. In 1817, the Duke instructed Mr Hoby to cut his boots shorter and make them tighter. He wanted the trimming removed and the “V” shape straightened out. This new style of boot became the iconic Wellington boot.

Wellington boots made by Hoby between 1817 and 1852.

Wellington boots made by Hoby between 1817 and 1852.

For his beaver hat, a man of fashion could go to Lock & Co Hatters (1676-present) located at 6 St. James’s Street. Lock made hats for Lord Nelson, as well as the plumed hat the Duke of Wellington wore to Waterloo. They also made military helmets for officers in the Hussars and Royal Dragoon Guards, and the folding chapeau-bras gentlemen wore to Court or to Almack’s. Lock & Co. is still in existence and continues to make hats of the finest quality.

Lock & Co.

Across St. James’s Street, a gentleman could venture into Harris’s Apothecary, which was originally located at Number 11. Harris’s opened in 1790 and established a reputation selling Lavender Water, Classic Cologne and English Flower perfumes. They also were known for shaving supplies, soaps, and creams. The company is still in operation, and today you can find them down the street at Number 29 under the name D.R. Harris & Company.

D.R. Harris & Company, London

D.R. Harris & Company, London

After a day in the shops, a gentleman might continue on to Number 3 St. James’s Street, where he could stop in Berry’s for a bottle of his favorite port. Berry’s was established in 1698 as a grocer. In 1810 the owners began to focus more on wine. Beginning in the late 18th century, it became fashionable to be weighed by the shop’s weighing scales. Such notable names in Berry’s weighing books include royal princes, Lord Byron, Beau Brummell and William Pitt the Younger. In the 1940’s the name changed to Berry Bros. & Rudd and that name is still used by the shop today.

 

Berry Brothers and Rudd

If a gentleman wanted to have his hair cut by someone other than his valet, he could go to Flex Rowland, who was located at the Thatched House Tavern on Haymarket. It is said that Rowland invented macassar oil, which men used in their hair, and specialized in military style haircuts. I found this description in “Round About Piccadilly and Pall Mall or, A Ramble from Haymarket to Hyde Park” by Henry Benjamin Wheatley, published in 1870:

Beneath the tavern front was a range of low-built shops, including that of Flex Rowland, the fashionable hair-dresser, who made a fortune by the sale of his macassar oil.

If a gentleman had a penchant for watch fobs, rings, and snuff boxes, he would certainly know about Rundell, Bridge, and Rundell Jewelers, located at 32 Ludgate Hill (est. 1788). They were the principle jeweler and goldsmith of the Prince Regent. Other prominent jewelers of the day included Phillip’s on Bond Street, Gray’s on Sackville Street, and Jeffrey’s. The Prince Regent was so fond of Jeffrey’s that at one point he owed the jeweler £89,00 in unpaid bills.

Gold-mounted tortoiseshell snuff boxes, supplied by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, were a favorite royal gift. The richness of their decoration varied according to the status of the recipient. Rundell’s accounts include a number of boxes of the type shown below. A similar tortoiseshell box was sold by Rundell to George IV in 1821 for £81 18s.

Snuff Box made by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell

To fill up his snuff box, the fashionable gentleman would visit Fribourg & Treyer in Haymarket (1790-1981), known throughout London as the purveryor of the finest snuff in Town.

Fribourg & Treyer

One of the best parts about researching these places was seeing how many of them are still in operation. I had visited a few of them the last time I was in London, and now I have one more to see the next time I’m in Town. It’s wonderful to be able to enter a store and know that you can still shop like a Regency gentleman.

If you know of other London shops from the Georgian era that are still in existence that might have appealed to a fashionable gentleman, please post a comment and let me know. I’d love to add them to my list.

Sources used:

 

A Peek at the 18th Century Dining Room from Kirtlington Park

Dining Room of Kirtlington Park

So I fully admit, I might have a “slight” addiction to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s period rooms. During a recent visit to the museum, I spent some time in the Dining Room of Kirtlington Park, which the museum acquired in 1933. I thought I’d take you back to the 18th century, to show you where you might have dined if you were a guest of Sir James Dashwood.

Kirtlington Park was built for the English Tory politician Sir James Dashwood, 2nd Baronet (1715-1779). The building was designed by a number of different architects, including William Smith and John Sanderson. It was built between 1742 and 1746, at a cost of over £32,000. The house and its park, which was laid out by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, are approximately ten miles north of Oxford, England. This was a convenient location for Dashwood, who was high steward at the University of Oxford from 1759 till his death. I imagine in that position, he held many dinners at Kirtlington Park.

Sir James Dashwood by Enoch Seeman the Younger (1737)

The original Dining Room from Kirtlington Park was housed behind the three windows on the first floor of the right wing.

Kirtlington_Park

Aside from the vibrant color, the other thing that hit me when I first walked into the room was all the beautiful plasterwork. The plaster decoration was designed by John Sanderson.

IMG_4610

John Sanderson's drawing for the Dining Room at Kirtlington Park ca. 1747-1748

John Sanderson’s drawing for the Dining Room at Kirtlington Park ca. 1747-1748

The four corners of the ceiling contain panels that represent each of the seasons.

Ceiling of Kirtlington Park

The marble chimneypiece might have been crafted by either John Cheere or Sir Henry Cheere.

Chimneypiece Kirtlington Park

The painting over the mantel is by John Wootton, dated 1748. It’s entitled, Classical Landscape with Gypsies, and it is the only painting that was executed for the room. Additional landscape paintings which were intended for this room were never completed.

Classical Landscape with Gypsies by John Wootton, ca. 1748

Classical Landscape with Gypsies by John Wootton, ca. 1748

As I walked around the room, it was nice to see the enormous mahogany doors and shutters still had their original gilt-bronze hardware.

Door to the Dining Room at Kirtlington Park

Kirtlington Park Dining Room

And, the oak floor was probably cut from trees felled on the estate. The color of the room is an approximate to what was on the walls when Dashwood first moved in. The museum was able to determine this through a microscopic examination of the various layers of paint.

Dining Room Kirtlington Park

I can only imagine what conversations these walls were privy to.

Resources used:

A Fashionable Georgian Address: Berkeley Square

Berkeley Square c.1816

Berkeley Square c.1816

Since the Georgian era, Mayfair has been one of the most prestigious places to live in London.  And during the Georgian era, Berkeley Square was one of the most desirable addresses.

Berkeley Square is actually an oblong garden that was, and is, surrounded by residential and commercial buildings. It’s named after John Berkeley, the 1st Lord Berkeley of Stratton (1602-1678). When Lord Berkeley built his town home on Piccadilly in 1675 for £30,000, he purchased the adjacent land north of his property. In 1692, Berkeley House was sold to William Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Devonshire and the house was renamed Devonshire House. From this 1830’s map, you can see the relationship between Devonshire House and Berkeley Square.

Berkeley Square

The five acres that encompass Berkeley Square were designed in 1730 by William Kent and is home to approximately 30 Maple trees. An equestrian statue of George III originally sat in the square, commissioned by his daughter, the Princess Amelia. The statue was removed in 1827 due to structural problems and a gazebo was erected on the site.

Berkeley Square

During my last visit to London, I stayed near Berkeley Square and took frequent walks around the Square. Sadly, only a few of the original buildings remain. Lansdowne House is one of those buildings, except the structure has been altered over the years. It is now an office building and private club. It stood next to Devonshire House until that building was torn down in 1920. Lansdowne House was designed by Robert Adam for Prime Minister John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. In 1765 it was sold, unfinished, to William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), Earl of Shelburne, later 1st Marquess of Lansdowne and a leading Whig statesman of the period. His home was a popular meeting place for social and political circles. Information on the dining room of this home can be found elsewhere on this website.

Lansdowne House

Lansdowne House

And speaking of dining, Gunter’s Tea Shop was a fixture on Berkeley Square beginning in 1757. This shop was housed in Nos. 7 and 8, and was one of the finest confectioners in London. They sold syrups, candied fruits, cakes, biscuits, ices, delicate sugar spun fantasies, and elaborate table decorations. In addition to eating your ice or ice cream inside the shop, you could also order from the convenience of your carriage. A waiter would bring your order out to you, giving you the opportunity to eat your treat in your carriage under the shade of Berkeley Square. It was a popular destination during the Regency era, since it was the only establishment in London where a lady could be seen eating alone with a gentleman who was not her relative, without it harming her reputation.

John Linnell's design for a State Bed, 1765

John Linnell’s design for a State Bed, 1765

Another business located on Berkeley Square belonged to cabinetmaker John Linnell (1729-1796), who occupied No. 28. He was one of the first English furniture makers to be educated in design, studying at St. Martin’s Lane Academy. During his lifetime, John Linnell produced high-quality furniture that rivaled other leading craftsmen of the day such as Thomas Chippendale. Aside from producing beautiful furniture, Linnell submitted designs for the State Coach of George III and produced the designs for the boxes at Drury Lane Theater. These boxes might have been occupied, at one time or another, by some of his notable neighbors.

Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds

Horace Walpole by Joshua Reynolds

Horace Walpole, the Whig politician, lived at no. 11 from 1779 until his death in 1797.

Sarah Child Villiers, Lady Jersey

Sarah Child Villiers, Lady Jersey

No. 38 was the Jersey Residence. On May 23, 1804, in the drawing room of that home, Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, the daughter of the 10th Earl of Westmorland, married George, Viscount Villiers, and became Lady Jersey when her husband inherited the title. She was a patroness of Almack’s and a prominent figure in Society. Her Berkeley Square town house was her London residence throughout her marriage, and she died there in 1867 at the age of 81.

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell

George Bryan “Beau” Brummell

Beau Brummell, the arbiter of men’s fashion, lived at No. 42 in 1792.

Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive

Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive

No. 45 was home to Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, (1725–1774), also known as Clive of India. He was a British officer who established the military and political supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal. He’s credited with securing India, and the wealth that followed, for the British crown. After returning home, he sat as a Tory Member of Parliament. In 1774, Clive died in his Berkeley Square home. There was no inquest into his death, however there was speculation he died from a self-inflicted wound or an overdose.

The Right Honorable George Canning

The Right Honorable George Canning

A few doors down, the Right Honorable George Canning, a former Prime Minister, called No. 50 his London home, until his death in 1827. It was then leased by a Miss Curzon, who lived there until she died at the age of 90. The next resident is responsible for giving this house its reputation as one of the most haunted houses in London. A Mr. Meyers was soon to be married and took possession of the house, furnishing it for his bride. Shortly before the wedding, the woman jilted him. He moved into a tiny room at the top of the building and shut himself off from the world. Years later, a number of people died while spending time in that room, and in each instance their deaths were preceded by terrible screams. If you want to read more about this haunted house, check out the 50 Berkeley Square website listed below. And if you are every around Berkeley Square, you might want to look for No. 50. The house is still standing.

50 Berkeley Square

50 Berkeley Square

Resources used include:

50 Berkeley Square – http://www.haunted-london.com/50-berkeley-square

Jane Austen’s World – https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/gunters-tea-shop/

British History Online – http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol4/pp326-338

Number One London – http://onelondonone.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-of-lady-jersey-in-1867.html

Regency History – http://www.regencyhistory.net/2011/11/lady-jersey-1785-1867.html

The Devoted Classicist – http://tdclassicist.blogspot.com/2011/10/duke-of-devonshires-lost-london-house.html

The Georgian Index – http://www.georgianindex.net/Gunters/gunters.html

The Victoria and Albert Museum – http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/design-for-a-state-bed-by-john-linnell/

 

A Peek Inside the Dining Room of Historic Lansdowne House

 

One of the sad parts about researching historical places, is discovering that a beautiful building had been torn down. I was recently reading about Berkeley Square in London and became intrigued by one of the late Georgian era’s prominent homes, Lansdowne House. It was designed by renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam and located on the southwest corner of Berkeley Square.

lansdowne_house_greenwood%27s_map_london_1830_edited

A fun fact about the house is that it was situated sideways, giving Devonshire House a direct view of Berkley Square through the gardens of both homes.

Lansdowne House was originally designed for Prime Minister John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792). Lord Bute was a tutor and a friend of the young Prince George. Upon George’s accession as King George III, Lord Bute was made Secretary of State. In 1762, he became Prime Minister.

In 1765, Lord Bute sold the unfinished property to William Petty-Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), the 2nd Earl of Shelbourne. Lord Shelbourne was also a Prime Minister and was in power during the end of America’s War of Independence. The house was completed from Adam’s designs in 1768. In 1784, Shelbourne became the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, and the house became known as Lansdowne House. Lansdowne was a leading Whig statesman and his house became a meeting place for Whig social and political circles in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne

William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne

The central block of the house stills stands at the corner of Fitzmaurice Place and Lansdowne Row. In 1930, two of the wings of the House were demolished, and it was converted into a club. The dining room, or “Eating-room” as Adam labeled it, was in the south wing and was bought by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Owing to the restrictions of the space, the long walls were reversed when they were installed in the museum. I have been lucky enough to visit this room on two recent trips to The Met.

Shelbourne_House_1765 later Lansdowne House

The dining room is the lower left room.

The ceiling was designed by Adam and created in plaster by Joseph Rose.

Ceiling of Dining Room of Lansdowne House

The carvings were executed by John Gilbert and the marble chimneypiece was supplied John Devall & Co., London. The oak floor in the room is original.

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

The niches originally held nine ancient marble statues acquired by Lord Lansdowne in Italy from the artist Gavin Hamilton. Unfortunately, they were sold off individually during the Lansdowne sale of 1930. The niches in the museum have been filled with plaster casts.

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Dining Room of Lansdowne House

Sadly, the original furniture that was designed by Robert Adam for this room and executed by John Linnell, no longer survives. However, thanks to museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art, we are still able to take a peek at a room that would have been lost to us long ago.

Update:

Victoria Hinshaw, from the wonderful historical blog Number One London, was kind enough to let me know that the Drawing Room of Lansdowne House is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. After visiting the Dining Room, I now have an itch to see the Drawing Room.  To continue with my love of Lansdowne, Victoria’s blog has posts on Lansdowne Club in London and Bowood, the Lansdowne’s country home. Check out her blog and search for these subjects: http://onelondonone.blogspot.com

Resources used include:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20499/lot/35/

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shelbourne_House_1765.jpg

http://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/john-stuart-3rd-earl-of-bute

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait.php?search=apnpgno=3938&eDate=&1Date=

 

A Fashionable Georgian Address: Grosvenor Square

“My aunt,” she continued, “is going tomorrow into that part of town, and I shall take the opportunity of calling in Grosvenor Street.”

Jane Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Since the Georgian era, the Mayfair district has been one of London’s most prestigious places to live. And Grosvenor Square was one of the most fashionable addresses.

Grosvenor Square

This garden square surrounded by residential buildings was designed by Sir Richard Grosvenor, the 4th Baronet, who is an ancestor to the modern-day Dukes of Westminster.

220px-Sir_Richard_Grosvenor,_4th_Baronet_of_Eaton

During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the estates in London were being developed. In 1710, Grosvenor designed a plan for a large garden square at the center of his estate. It was intended to be the finest of all the then existing squares. The area was to have uniform houses, with stables behind them. Construction of Grosvenor Square began in 1725. The engraving below shows how the original plan was altered over time. On the far left side, the houses are identical. The further you travel along the street, the houses look different.

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

I visited Grosvenor Square during my last visit to London, to see for myself what it looks like. While some of the original buildings remain, the majority of them have been rebuilt over the years.

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

In the early 18th century, most of the garden squares in London were designed so that the central parkland was reserved for the exclusive use of the square’s residences. Grosvenor hired William Kent to design his garden. Originally a brick wall was constructed to enclose it. Later, this wall was replaced with iron railings, which gives the area an open feel.

Today, the general pubic is allowed into the garden and in the eastern end there is a memorial dedicated to the British victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Grosvenor Square 9/11 Memorial

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square

Grosvenor Square is not cut off from the rest of London. To give you an idea of the surrounding streets during the late 18th century, here is a portion of the Horwood map of London, which was completed in 1799. The southeastern section of Grosvenor Square is in the upper left corner of the map.

Horwood Map of London 1799

If you are familiar with stories set in the Regency era, you’ve probably read about English aristocrats driving along Rotten Row during the fashionable hour. This portion of Christopher and John Greenwood’s map of London from 1827, shows how close Grosvenor Square is to Hyde Park.

Christopher and John Greenwood's Map of London 18276a00d8341c84c753ef0168e7420e96970c-800wiThere were a number of those notable aristocrats who resided in Grosvenor Square over the years. In 1739, a writer for Gentleman’s Magazine wrote, “the centre house on the east side of the square was raffled for, and won by two persons named Hunt and Braithwaite. The possessor valued it at £10,000, but the winners sold it two months afterwards for £7,000 to the Duke of Norfolk.”

The 11th Earl of Derby hired renowned architect Robert Adam to build him a residence at Number 23. It was regarded as one of Adam’s finest works. Unfortunately, it was demolished in the 1860s. The only image I was able to find of the earl’s residence is this engraving of the Third Drawing Room.

Earl of Derby's Third Drawing Room

The Duchess of Kendal, George I’s mistress, lived at Number 43 from 1728 to 1743. Her former residence is still standing.

Duchess of Kendall

The 3rd Duke of Dorset (1745-1799) lived at Number 38.

The 3rd Duke of Dorset

The 3rd Duke of Grafton (1735-1811), the Prime Minister who was famous for his indiscreet private life and racing stables, also called Grosvenor Square home.

The 3rd Duke of Grafton

Other notable residents include: John Wilkes, Esq. who was Alderman and Chamberlain of the City of London; the Marquis of Rockingham; and Lord North, the 2nd Earl of Guilford, who was the Prime Minister during the American Revolutionary War.

Grosvenor Square has other ties to America, which can still be seen today. In 1785, the first American Minister to the Court of St. James, John Adams, took up residence at Number 9 Grosvenor Square. His daughter, Abigail, was married from that house to Colonel William Stephens Smith. In 1788, Adams returned to America and became the second President of the United States. The building Adams lived in still stands on the corner of Duke and Brook Streets.

John Adams House Grosvenor Square

Today, Grosvenor Square looks different than it did in the Georgian era. When I was there, I sat in the park on a warm June evening and three teenage boys road their skateboards past me. On the grassy lawn to my left, a father was teaching his little girl how to dribble a soccer ball. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder what Sir Richard Grosvenor would have thought of the changes to his elegant corner of the world.

Resources used include:

Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1739

Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827

Horwood’s Map of London, 1799

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45202

http://www.georgianindex.net/London/Squares/grosvenorsquare.html

http://thethingsthatcatchmyeye.wordpress

http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2012/02/a-good-map-is-a-joy.html

 

A Regency Era Tourist Attraction: The Crypt of St. Martin’s-le-Grand

There are times when I’m combing through historical information and have the good fortune of uncovering a gem that sparks my imagination. This happened not too long ago when I was researching locations in London and read about the crypt of St. Martin’s le Grand. Since today is Halloween, I thought it was an appropriate day to tell you about this regency era attraction.

Crypt

Around the year 700, a collegiate church and sanctuary was founded by Wythred, King of Kent, and dedicated to St. Martin. The epithet le-Grand was added afterwards, because subsequent monarchs granted it extraordinary privileges. William the Conqueror confirmed the endowments and the closing words of his charter states: “If any person whatever shall presume to alter anything hereby granted, let him perish with Judas the traitor.”

Even after the dissolution of the monasteries, the area remained a privileged one, and constituted the precinct known as the Liberty of St. Martin’s-le-Grand. In 1548 St. Martin’s was turned over to King Edward VI and the church was pulled down. A wine tavern and houses were erected in its place, and for a considerable period of time this area also possessed its own prison, bailiff and court. In 1815, Parliament approved this location for a new general post office. When the workmen were clearing the site in 1818, they made an interesting discovery.

This is the account from The Times, dated the 25th of September, 1818:

“As the workmen employed in clearing away the ground in St. Martin’s-le-Grand, which is to form the site of the new post office, were a day or two ago removing the foundations of the old houses which stood in the rear of St. Leonard’s-Fester Lane, they discovered the roofs of some ancient vaults. As soon as the rubbish on the particular spot was removed, three vaults were discovered, each communicating with the other by a narrow passage or gallery: they are built chiefly of large square bricks, intermixed with stone and some flint, the depth about eighteen and the breadth about six or seven. They appear to have been each originally divided into two compartments. In the back of one of the vaults was found a large quantity of human bones, thrown promiscuously together, as if collected from different graves. In one of them is a stone coffin, rather short in length, made in the shape of the ancient coffins, square in the head, and inclining in a tapering form towards the feet; a space is rather rudely shaped for the head of the body to rest upon, and the remains of a skull and some decayed bones are in the cavity. Adjoining, and in the same line with these arches, is a vaulted roof, supported by small and short stone shafts or pillars, from which spring semicircular arches, intersecting each other at equidistant points, and presenting to the eye the skeleton of a structure, at once simple, durable and beautiful. The subdivisions of the intercolumniation [sic] were evidently open when built, and so arranged as to admit a communication with other parts of the building. The floor of these vaults is about 29 feet below the pavement in Newgate-street, the loose ground on the same level bears all the appearance of having once been a cemetery, from the fragments and calcined parts of bones intermixed with soft earth which are observable in the vicinity.” 

The Crypt of Kirkstall Abbey circa 1806-7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Crypt of Kirkstall Abbey c. 1806-7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner

Other reports state that a Roman coin was found in the crypt and the stone coffin contained a skeleton. After accounts of the discovery ran in the papers, people came from neighboring areas to visit the crypt and for a time it was a tourist attraction.

The General Post Office opened in 1829, and was a grand Neoclassical design by Robert Smirke. From this location mail coaches departed for destinations all over the country. The building was torn down in 1911, and was replaced by a new post office to the west.

The General Post Office

The General Post Office in St. Martin’s-le-Grand by Thomas Shepherd c.1829

Sources used include: