St. James’s Church – A Fashionable Place to Marry During the Regency Era

Not too long ago, I traveled to London to celebrate the release of An Unsuitable Duchess. It seemed an appropriate place to celebrate since my Secret Lives of the Ton series takes place there during the Regency era. While in London I had fun searching out locations to include in the third book of the series entitled An Unexpected Countess, which will be released June 1, 2017.

Whenever possible, I like to use locations for my stories that still exist today so readers can visit them if they have the opportunity. I knew I needed a church for this story, and most Regency romances that I’ve read use St. George’s Hanover Square in Mayfair. I wanted to find a unique location and knew there had to be other churches from that time period that members of the British aristocracy would have gone to. I just needed to find one. My search led me to St. James’s Church on Piccadilly in the exclusive area of St. James’s, and I thought I’d give you an armchair trip to see it with me.

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The Piccadilly entrance to St. James’s Church.

When St. James’s Square and the area around it began to be developed in the 17th century, it created a need for an extra church to accommodate the additional parishioners of St. Martin in the Fields. Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St. Albans, gave some of his land for an additional church and churchyard. In 1672 he hired noted architect Christopher Wren to design an Anglican church. It was finished in 1684, and in 1685 the separate parish of St. James was created.

Wren designed the church to be built of red brick with Portland stone dressings. Grinling Gibbons, who was a noted sculpture and woodcarver of the day, made the carved marble font and limewood altarpiece.

 

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According to the church’s website, “accounts by visitors to St. James’s during the eighteenth century stress the fashionable element in the congregation. John Evelyn remarked that a sermon which he had heard elsewhere on the subject of costly apparel would have been more appropriately delivered at St. James’s or some other of the theatrical churches in London, where the ladies and women were so richly and wantonly dressed and full of jewels. James Macky complained that a stranger had to pay for a convenient seat so that it cost one almost as dear to see a play, but he still thought the church worth a visit on a holiday or Sunday, when the fine assembly of beauties and Quality come there. In later years, James Boswell confessed that his mind was distracted when he attended a service at the church but excused himself because his warm heart and a vivacious fancy made him give in to love and to the most brilliant and showy method of public worship.”

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The back entrance of the church from Jermyn Street.

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The door leading up to the spire.

The interior of the church, which had been admired for its beauty by contemporary writers, owed its brilliancy not only to the richness of the congregation’s dress but also to the whiteness of the walls, the gilded fittings, and the handsome furniture all illuminated in winter by scores of candles.

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The English poet and painter William Blake was baptized in St. James’s Church in 1757 and the musician George Thomas Smart was baptized here in 1776.

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William Ince and John Mayhew, who were partners in a successful furniture business, married sisters in a double wedding in St. James’s in 1762. Fredrick de Horn married the artist Angelica Kauffman here in 1767. For those interested in scandal, the groom was an imposter who was already married. And Philip Hardwick, the architect, married Julia Shaw in St. James’s in 1819.

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James Gillray, the famous caricaturist was buried in St. James’s in 1815. Mary Beale, one of the first professional women artists, was buried here in 1699. And William Douglas, the 4th Duke of Queensberry, was buried here in 1810.

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A simple gravestone, now used as a paver stone at the entrance of the church.

In May of 1940, a bomb destroyed the rectory and vestry, and incendiary bombs also took out the spire and most of the roof. The churchyard and outside graves were destroyed as well. While I roamed around the churchyard, I had the opportunity to talk with Reverend Lucy Winkett. She informed me that after the explosion many of the tombstones were left scattered about the churchyard. Because supplies were scarce due to the war, the parish decided to use those tombstones in front of the church as pavers leading to the building when they rebuilt the church in 1947. You can see them today if you enter the grounds through the Piccadilly entrance.

 

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The churchyard is raised and behind this wall on Jermyn Street.

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St. James’s Church is the black square you see under the “i” in Piccadilly. Map courtesy of Greenwood’s Map of London from 1826.

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This is a map of the parish boundaries for St. James’s Church.

If you have the opportunity to travel to London and are in the area, it’s worth a stop to see this lovely church which I found a way to use in An Unexpected Countess. You’ll have to read the book to find out how.

 

How to Smell Like a Regency Era Gentleman

I fully admit to having a thing about the way my characters smell. I kinda get a bit obsessive about it. Maybe it’s because I can still recall which cologne each of my ex-boyfriends wore and, if I smell them today, the scent will bring back a distinct memory. And before you question that statement, I’m referring to smelling the cologne, not an ex-boyfriend.

Creating a distinct smell for a female character that lives during the Regency era is much easier than figuring out how I’d like my heroes to smell. I’ve read about so many male characters smelling of Bay Rum, that I was beginning to question whether there were other scents available to men. So during my recent trip to London I was on a mission to find out what scents gentlemen favored during the Regency era. There were two shops, in particular, that I wanted to visit because they’re chemists and perfumers who have been around since the late 18th century and catered more to a male clientele. Lucky for me, each shop had very helpful salesclerks that were happy to show me some of their oldest scents.

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My first stop was D.R. Harris & Co., Chemists and Perfumers on St. James’s Street. This shop was established in 1790. During the Georgian era they gained a reputation as purveyors of Lavender Water, Classic Cologne and English Flower perfumes. While I was there, I sampled some of the men’s fragrances that were around during the Regency era. Here is what I discovered. Classic Cologne is a typically fresh fragrance, Freshening Cologne has a tangy lemon note, and Traditional Cologne is a warmer scent with subtle orange notes.

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Two of their other oldest fragrances caught my eye. They were  Albany, named after the fashionable bachelors’ residence on Piccadilly, and Mayfair, named after the exclusive area of London where the Regency era elite resided. It was surprising to see such a modern technique of naming a product. I liked both of these fragrances so much, that I brought bottles of them back with me. Albany is a blend of lavender and citrus, and Mayfair had a sweeter floral fragrance.

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I also did smell Bay Rum. It was not to my taste at all and, for the record, none of my heroes will smell like it. I expected a very warm fragrance leaning more towards spicy rum. It actually smelled more like bay leaves.

 

 

Another shop I visited is Truefitt & Hill, which is also on St. James’s Street. This is the oldest barbershop in the world and was established in 1805.

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Famous Regency era men who were patrons of this shop include the sons of George III, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron, and Beau Brummell. Aside from the services of the barber shop, they also sell men’s cologne and shaving products. Sadly, I was not able to find out which scent was favored by Brummell.

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Statue of Beau Brummell on Jermyn Street in London

 

It was amusing to learn that their Freshmen Cologne was specifically blended in 1805 with fashion conscious Cambridge and Oxford students in mind. According to the shops description, it has “top notes of Lemon, Bergamot, Rosemary, Mint and Orange Blossom surrounding a heart of Clary Sage, Lily of the Valley, Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang which comfortably rest on a base notes of Musk and Oakmoss.”

Their Spanish Leather cologne dates back to 1814. I’ll often have my heroes smelling like leather, depending on what they are wearing or if they’ve been riding. To find a fragrance named leather made me laugh. It is described by Truefitt &Hill as “a rich, but subtle blend, with top notes of Fruit, Bergamot, Orange and Pimento, with a heart of Carnation, Cinnamon, Patchouli, Rose, Orris and woody notes, all resting on a base of Amber, Moss and Musk, Vanilla and Tonka.”

So now I have different scents to distinguish my characters, and you now know what a Regency era gentleman might have smelled like if you were standing beside him under the glittering chandeliers of a London ballroom. And best of all, you can still buy these fragrances today!

If you’re interested in learning more about these shops or buying some of there products, here are the links to their websites:

D.R. Harris & Co.

Truefitt & Hill

 

 

 

 

 

London’s Albany: An Exclusive Address for the Regency Era Bachelor

One of my favorite parts in developing a character is trying to determine where they live. I’m currently writing An Unexpected Countess and my hero, the Earl of Hartwick, would rather chew glass than live under the same roof as his father. After looking at a number of options, I decided Hart would live in one of London’s most exclusive addresses during the Regency era for a fashionable bachelor, an apartment-type building known as Albany. One of the best things about this building is that it has survived and continues to be one of London’s most exclusive residences. It’s located on Piccadilly next to the Burlington Arcade and is set back from the street by a private courtyard. For over two hundred years a sense of privacy has been valued here. Today, I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

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Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827

Albany was originally designed by Sir William Chambers in 1774 as a residence for the first Lord Melbourne and his wife. In 1791 the Duke of York and Albany proposed a house swap to Lord Melbourne and an agreement was reached. The Duke, who was the second son of George III, and his wife lived there until 1803, when compounding debt forced him to sell the house to a young developer named Alexander Copland for £37,000.

Copland recognized the need for small London residences for fashionable gentlemen who didn’t wish to live alone in large townhouses and wanted to be close to the clubs and shops of St. James, as well as the Houses of Parliament. He worked with the architect Henry Holland to convert the mansion into a subscription house with a small garden behind it. Holland added two parallel buildings to the mansion and divided the entire structure into 69 apartments (or sets as Albany residents refer to them). The sets in the attached buildings are accessed from a 100ft. passageway known as the Rope Walk.

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Drawing by Thomas H. Shepherd, c. 1830, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The sets were marketed exclusively to wealthy, well-connected gentlemen who were either bachelors or men who did not live with their wives. Some of the notable residents in the early nineteenth century include Matthew “Monk” Lewis, Lord Byron, and George Canning. Residents had an option to lease or buy a set. In 1814 Lord Byron took a seven-year lease at £110 per annum, with the option of purchasing the set for £1900 within one year.

Occupants were, and still are, subject to certain rules and regulations established by a group of Trustees who are elected from among the residents. Some of the original rules stipulated that residents could not alter any part of the building structure and owners could not rent or sell chambers without the consent of the Trustees. And it was understood that no women or children were permitted on the premises, although there is a rumor that Byron’s lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, managed to enter this forbidden land dressed as a page-boy. It wasn’t until the 1880s that the ban on women was finally lifted and beginning in the twentieth century women were permitted to reside there.

In the early nineteenth century a standard set contained an entrance hall, two main rooms in the front of the unit, and two or three smaller rooms in the back. Each set came with a wine and coal cellar in the basement and accommodations for a servant on the upper floor. In 1818 gaslights were installed in the building, and in June of 1820 the Trustees agreed that the parish should light the entrance from Piccadilly, the courtyard and the portico of the mansion.

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London’s Albany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Regency history buffs might find it interesting to discover that in 1804 Henry Angelo’s fencing school was located in Albany’s courtyard, and in 1807 the pugilist John Jackson might have used the same apartment. For a short time Jane Austen’s brother Henry, of the banking firm Austen and Maunde, also had his office in the courtyard.

I love that this building has retained its sense of the past and hasn’t changed much in over two hundred years. According to one of its current residents, there is such a sense of decorum that uttering a friendly hello to a neighbor as you pass on the stone stairs or the Rope Walk is frowned upon. For the residents of Albany, a nod or a hat tip to a lady is the appropriate greeting.

References:

British History Online: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp367-389

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Jennifer Kloester. 2010. Print.

New York Times Magazine, London’s Best and Most Secretive Address. November 11, 2013. Print.

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.

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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:

A Luxury Hotel in Regency London

I’m trying to squeeze in one last trip before summer vacation is over, and I’m challenged with finding a charming place to stay. Today, going online to search for a hotel is relatively easy, and I am a bit obsessive about reading guest reviews to help me find the perfect place for us to rest after a busy day seeing the sights. All this research had me thinking about travel during the early nineteenth century. Where did the fashionable people stay if they were planning on spending a brief amount of time in London?

Temple of Concord with rockets bursting overhead in Green Park. 1814

Temple of Concord with rockets bursting overhead in Green Park. 1814

During 1814, London was full of foreign dignitaries who had come to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon at the Prince Regent’s Grand Jubilee celebration. When Napoleon sailed for Elba, France’s King Louis XVIII left Buckinghamshire for London and took rooms at Grillon’s Hotel on Albemarle Street. Another popular hotel among foreign royals staying in London was the Pulteney Hotel.

The Pulteney Hotel’s name came from Pulteney, Earl of Bath, who had resided in the building before it became a hotel. The Pulteney was located on the west corner of Bolton Street at 105 Piccadilly. It was close to Green Park, Hyde Park and St. James Park where many of the Jubilee celebrations were held.

Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, in her fetching bonnet.

Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, in her fetching bonnet.

In late March of 1814, the Pulteney Hotel played host to Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg. Catherine was the widowed sister of Tsar Alexander I, and her hotel arrangements had been made by the Russian Ambassador, Count Lieven. It cost 210 guineas a week for her stay.

Tsar Alexander I of Russia

Tsar Alexander I of Russia

On June 7th, Tsar Alexander I arrived in London for the victory celebration and was invited to stay in the Duke of Cumberland’s apartments at St. James’s Palace. He declined the invitation and decided to join his sister at the Pulteney Hotel instead. Upon his arrival at the hotel, he stepped out onto the balcony to acknowledge the cheering crowds who had gathered in Piccadilly to see him.

What was it like to be a guest at the Pulteney Hotel?

While staying in London, guests had access to the well-trained Pulteney footmen. These footmen could assist you in delivering your calling cards around town to announce your arrival. Should you decide to shop along fashionable Bond Street, these footmen would carry your growing stack of purchases. And, if you were without your own carriage and understood the importance attached to handsome equipage, the Pulteney could arrange the hire of the expensive but necessary carriage to drive you about town during your stay.

After all those visits and all that shopping, you would hope you’d be able to have a restful night’s sleep. But during the early nineteenth century, London was not a serene place. In Sisters of Fortune, a biography of the Caton sisters by author Jehanne Wake, there is an excellent description of what life was like for someone residing at the Pulteney.

“The Pulteney Hotel, for which the highest prices in London were extracted from guests, was all that was most comfortable, but there was no rest to be had there. At first, the sisters took a suite of rooms arranged with their bedchambers at the back overlooking the mews. Over the cobblestones from about half-past six o’clock every morning came the dust carts with their bells and the dustmen with their chants of ‘Dust-ho!’ Then came the porterhouse carts rattling with pewter pots; then the milk carts; and then the vegetable sellers so that ‘the succession or cries, each in a different tune, so numerous when mixed with the stables housed there and stirring for the day, meant that there was an unholy noise throughout the morning.’ This cacophony was not well received by women who had only gone to bed at three o’clock in the morning. Next they moved to a suite at the front of the hotel, looking out onto Piccadilly. From about midnight…until about five o’clock in the morning a steady flow of carriages drove up and down Piccadilly, taking their occupants to and from routs and balls and gamming clubs. Should there be one half hour’s quiet, it was sure to be punctured by the watchman’s call reporting on the state of the weather.”

With a night like that, I wonder how many stars the Pulteney would have received had their guests been given the opportunity to give it a review.

Sources used include:

What’s So Rotten About Rotten Row?

It’s that well-known place people go to see and be seen. Today it might be an expensive restaurant, exclusive nightclub or even a famous seaside town. But during the Regency Era one place English aristocrats went to strut their stuff was a bridle path in London’s Hyde Park known as Rotten Row. This pathway was the ultimate place to people watch. On any given day the Prince Regent, Beau Brummell, or Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire might promenade down the bridle path for all of London to see. Quite simply, Rotten Row was the place to be.

Rotten Row

The show began around 5:00 in the afternoon when members of the ton would descend on Hyde Park for the fashionable hour. Beautifully turned-out men and women on horseback shared the bridle path with their finely dressed peers who rode in expensive carriages. One did not gallop on Rotten Row during the fashionable hour but instead walked, trotted or cantered along. This gave everyone plenty of time to find out the latest gossip, mingle with influential people and perhaps even engage in a discrete flirtation. Of course being able to show off your riding clothes, equipage and mounts was an added bonus. If you were inclined to stroll or did not have a horse and carriage, you could use the footpath beside Rotten Row and observe the spectacle going on just a few feet away.

Rotten Row

Walking in the Footsteps of History

When I was in London last year I spent a beautiful day in Hyde Park and made it a point to take a long walk along Rotten Row. If you’d like to see Rotten Row for yourself, it’s easy to find inside Hyde Park. Enter the park through the Grand Entrance, which is also known as Queen Elizabeth’s Gate. This gate is at Hyde Park Corner next to Apsley House. Just ahead and to your left you’ll see the sand and dirt bridle path which is Rotten Row. Grass and trees border the south-side. To the north, black posts separate the bridle path from a bike lane and footpath. As you stroll along Rotten Row you’ll pass an arbor, flower gardens, green space and eventually you’ll spot the Serpentine to your right.

Rotten Row

Today you can find walkers and joggers on Rotten Row as well as the Queen’s Household Cavalry. Hyde Park Stables, located inside the park, offers horseback riding as well as lessons if you’d like to ride on this path yourself.

Rotten Row

A royal commemorative plaque was erected near Rotten Row’s entrance in 1990 and provides a brief history of this notable location:

“Rotten Row The King’s Old Road Completed 1690

This ride originally formed part of King William III’s carriage drive from Whitehall to Kensington Palace. It’s construction was supervised by the Surveyor of their majesties road, Captain Michael Studholme, and it was the first lamp-lit road in the kingdom. Designated as a public bridleway in the 1730’s, Rotten Row is one of the most famous urban riding grounds in the world.”

So why would such a fashionable place have such an odd name? One of the most popular explanations is that the path was called “Route du Roi,” which is French for King’s Road. Eventually the French was corrupted by the English to Rotten Row. Although this explanation makes sense, I still find it a funny name for such a prestigious place.

Sources used include: