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.

How To Spy On A Suitor Without Looking Like You’re Trying

fatwomanspyImagine attending a performance at the Theatre Royal, and you discover the object of your affection is sitting in a box to your right. You have no desire to make a spectacle of yourself by leaning out of your box to see who they are with, so you take out what appears to be a straight-barrel spyglass and point it at the stage. While it looks as if you are focusing your attention on the performance, the ingenious spyglass you are holding is allowing you to watch the people in the box to your right. Now you can stare to your heart’s content and no one will be the wiser.

While researching a pair of antique opera glasses this past week, I stumbled across a fun accessory I’d never heard of, known as the “jealousy glass.” It looks like a single barrel opera or field-glass, but it actually contains an oblique lens and side aperture that allows the user to discretely see what is happening to their left or right.

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The jealousy glass, also known as a polemoscope, was invented by the German-Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1637. Hevelius believed his invention could have military uses, but the viewing angle was found to be too narrow. During the 18th century, the general population began using the polemoscope to spy on other people.

Jealousy Glass c.1750-1770

As time went on and the demand for jealousy glasses increased, innovations were made to Hevelius’s original design. The jealousy glass pictured above was made in France and dates from 1750-1770. It has a brass eyepiece and blue enamel casing with white decorative embellishments. A hinged “lens cover” conceals a storage compartment that was probably used for snuff or a pomade. The oval mirror with a surrounding green cord opens to the side and allows the user to view the reflected image.

 Jealousy Glass (English, c. 1760)

Jealousy glasses were also designed with specific genders in mind. This jealousy glass is from England and was made in 1760. It was specifically designed for a gentleman and holds a number of accoutrements. The brass body is covered in green stained snakeskin, and there is a magnetic compass set into the brass cap. The core contains a gentleman’s manicure set and includes nail scissors, a hinged ivory note-slide, a pencil, folding knife, needle and tweezers with a file handle. It reminds me of an 18th century version of a Swiss Army Knife.

Jealousy Glass (French, early 19th century)

The ladies also had jealousy glasses created especially for them. This early 19th century jealousy glass was made in Paris by Bointaburet. It contains a pill case under the lid and a miniature scent bottle just 2cm wide that fits within the barrel. Should the behavior of a certain gentleman cause a lady to swoon, the bottle’s contents could help revive her.

Source used:

The College of Optometrists: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/optical_entertainment/jealousy.cfm

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:

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:

The Power of the Quizzing Glass

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The quizzing glass or quizzer was a popular accessory during the Georgian and English Regency eras.  It consists of a single round, oval or oblong lens rimmed in gold, silver or pinchbeck.  Some of the handles are quite elaborate and might even have compartments containing such items as vinaigrettes or a lock of hair.  The loop of the handle often swivels to make it easier to lay flat when hung from a chain.  Depending on the owner’s needs a quizzing glass was either set with a magnifying lens or a corrective lens.  The lenses were made by opticians and were most likely set into frames provided by goldsmiths and jewelers.

The quizzing glass appears to be an innocuous item that would have been used to assist a person who had poor vision, but when you look deeper you discover it was much more than that.

I first became enamored with antique quizzing glasses when I read Slightly Married by Mary Balogh.  The novel introduced the powerful and coldly disciplined Wulfric Bedwyn, the Duke of Bewcastle, who had the ability to intimidate people by simply studying them through his quizzing glass.  Georgette Heyer also featured this Regency accessory in some of her novels such as An Infamous Army, The Corinthian, and Devil’s Cub.  Maybe it’s because of stories like these that people often associate quizzing glasses with haughty English aristocrats or dandies.  But the popularity of using lenses for more than reading might actually have begun in France with the use of the lorgnette.

The lorgnette is a pair of glasses a person would hold up to their eyes by a handle and was popular in France during the late eighteenth century.  Lorgnette comes from the French lorgner, “to peer at.”  Frenchmen began using them for unashamed observation of feminine beauty.  In an article entitled “Les Lorgneurs” by Mercier, published in the Tableau de Paris in 1793, there is a wonderful description of how bold these Frenchmen were.

“Paris is full of these lorgneurs, setting their eyes on you, fixing your person with a steady and immobile gaze.  This behavior is so widespread that it is not even considered indecent anymore.  Ladies are not offended when they are observed arriving at the theatre or whilst taking a walk.  But should this happen when they are amongst themselves the lorgneur is considered uncouth and accused of insolence.”

In England the single lens quizzing glass became a fashionable way to observe people and objects.  It was possible to issue a set-down simply by peering through the lens of a quizzing glass with a critical eye.  Hogarth, Rowlandson and Cruikshank all caricatured its use.  And famous quizzing glass users included Beau Brummell and Charles James Fox.

The fashion was not limited to men as women also took to wearing them.  Typically a man would wear his quizzing glass about his neck with a black ribbon and a woman would suspend hers around her neck by a long chain.  In the painting below of Miss Rosamond Crocker by Sir Thomas Lawrence you can see how fashionable this accessory had become.

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So the next time you are on line at a shop and some rude patron tries to cut you off, just think how fabulous it would be if you could simply peer at them through a quizzing glass to put them in their place.  Oh and by the way, the one that I wear has also come in handy when my friends are trying to read the small type on restaurant menus.  It really is quite a versatile accessory.

Sources used include:

  • Candice Hern’s Website
  • The College of Optometrists Website
  • The Georgian Index Website
  • Mercier, “Les Lorgneurs” Tableau de Paris (1793)
  • The Word Wenches Blog 

What is a Love Token?

American Love Token                  "WJ"                 1876

American Love Token
“WJ”
1876

Most people think of a love token as a small gift or gesture that expresses affection for someone we care about. In actuality, a Love Token is a coin that’s been rubbed smooth and hand engraved with initials, names or sayings. These coins were given as gifts until the early twentieth century and were symbols of promise or remembrance.  So, how did this practice start?

For centuries, coins have been carried for luck.  Unfortunately, it was easy to confuse your lucky coin with any other coin in your purse and people would accidentally spend them.  In Great Britain it became common to mark your lucky coin to prevent that from happening by bending it twice, one side up and the other side down.  These coins were known as benders and this is where the term a crooked sixpence came from.

During the late seventeenth century people also began to engrave their lucky coins.  These coins were appropriately referred to as engraved coins and many of them had simple linear designs.  In addition to marking lucky coins, people also began to engrave coins to mark births, deaths, unions and marriages.

American Love Token "FWP" c1853

American Love Token
“FWP”
c1853

Coins were also engraved by people being shipped from England to the penal colonies in Australia.  Some mention the name of the imprisoned and the number of years to be served and others have sentimental references.  A classic engraving is: “When this you see, remember me.”

It’s believed that during the late Georgian era suitors began to present engraved coins to young ladies as tokens of love.  By the early nineteenth century the custom of presenting “Love Tokens” made its way to the United States.

To create a Love Token a person would take their coin to a jeweler or engraver who would smooth out one, and sometimes both, sides of the coin.  The coin would then be re-engraved by hand with the initials of the giver, names, an important date, place or event.  They were usually given as an expression of love and sometimes were used in the proposal of marriage.  Keep in mind coins were worth a lot more in those days, so destroying your currency for someone you loved was a way to show how much they meant to you.

English Love Token "Merry Xmas" 1906

English Love Token
“Merry Xmas”
1906

In the later half of the nineteenth century, Love Tokens were also given as gifts to family members as well as friends.  Some Love Tokens have holes in them so the recipient could wear the token around her neck or on her wrist.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States Government outlawed the practice of engraving coins and the custom of exchanging Love Tokens went out of style in America.

I currently have four Love Tokens in my collection.  Unfortunately the oldest one I own, which is from 1823, does not photograph well since the engraving of the initials “MJB” is a bit worn down.  I like to believe the engraving’s worn because the lady who owned it rubbed it each and every time she thought of her one true love.

Sources used include:

  • The Love Token Society
  • The British Museum

 

How to Flirt Across a Crowded Ballroom Without a Cell Phone

You catch your lover’s heated gaze across the room at a party.  What you have to say shouldn’t be overheard, so you take out your cell phone. An intimately worded text could very well lead to an early departure or at least build anticipation for what might occur later in the evening. Today, flirting is as easy as texting.

But did you know, two hundred years ago ladies in Regency England had their own way to  silently communicate with their suitors? And they also used one of their fashionable accessories to help them flirt.

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This Regency era fan is made of lace and painted silk. The sticks are made of carved ivory.

During the Georgian and Regency eras one of the most popular fashion accessories was the fan.  Sophisticated ladies also knew their fans came in handy for more than stirring up a cool breeze.  When she made a particular gesture with her fan, a lady could send a silent message to a potential or current suitor across a crowded ballroom and remain discreet.

This fan language was revealed in etiquette books and magazines of the day.  Fanology or Ladies’ Conversation Fan by Charles Francis Badini was published in London in 1797. It outlined a list of gestures and the messages they sent.

Here is a sample of what could be said in a Regency ballroom without the use of words:

  • Carrying a fan in your left hand in front of your face = I want to make your acquaintance.
  • Touching the tip of the fan with your finger = I wish to speak to you.
  • Carrying an open fan in your left hand = Come and talk to me.
  • Carrying it in your right hand in front of your face = Follow me.
  • Placing it by your left ear = Leave me alone.
  • Twirling your fan in your left hand = We are being watched.
  • A half closed fan pressed to your lips = You may kiss me.
  • Twirling your fan in your right hand = I love another.
  • Placing the fan near your heart = I love you.
  • Shutting a fully opened fan very slowly = I promise to marry you.

With all these subtle indications a lady would hope her gentleman was also well-versed in fan language.  If he wasn’t, it might have led to a very frustrating evening.