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 is a treasure hunt romance.

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 plays a key part in An Unexpected Countess. You’ll have to read the book to find out how.

AN UNEXPECTED COUNTESS was voted Harlequin’s 2017 Hero of the Year.

The Earl of Hartwick delights in scandalizing Society with his behaviour. But it’s his turn to be scandalized when, on one of his escapades, he bumps into Miss Sarah Forrester -in the rain, at night, on a rooftop!

Sarah is hunting for a diamond, and the last thing she needs is the infuriating Hart distracting her. But he’s looking for the jewel too! They might be rivals, but the sparks between them are uncontrollable. And soon Sarah finds herself longing for another treasure – becoming Hart’s countess!

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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