A bird’s eye view of historical London

I have worked in some wonderful historical venues for my day job as well as visiting places at the weekend for fun and to do research for the historical books.  But sometimes I work in a modern venue that still makes me think about the past.

A while ago now, I went to a meeting that was in a venue at the top of an office block close to the banks of the Thames in London near Vauxhall Bridge. When I looked out through the window it struck me just how small London was in the Regency and Victorian eras when my historical books are set.

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Three years ago I occupied one cold autumn evening that I had stayed over in London for work by walking down to the area where Vauxhall Pleasure grounds had once been. It is that small triangle of green on the far side of the river. You can see there is very little there now, I couldn’t even find any plants or trees that suggested there had been an aristocratic playground there once. But I walked there thinking about all the historical characters’ whose diaries and letters I had read, imaging them climbing into boats to cross the river to reach the excitement at the time when there was no bridge. I had set a scene there in The Passionate Love of a Rake and so I knew a lot about what it was like in its heyday.

The underpass to get from one side of the road to the other near the park is decorated with images to remind people today what people then would have been looking forward to. Men on stilts and tightrope walkers.

 

I was writing The Tainted Love of a Captain at the time I was in this high office building and I had recently researched how to obtain a licence to marry without the banns being read. I had set a scene in the book when a character travels to Lambeth Palace to obtain a licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s officials. So when I turned the other way in this office, with my camera, and took another picture, I was probably foolishly surprised to see Lambeth and Westminster Palace within easy walking distance to the boats to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

I thought of Harriett Wilson as I stood there looking out at London. I have shared her story on the blog. I thought particularly about the days she wrote of waiting in a carriage outside Westminster Palace for a lover to come out from a meeting of the House of Lords. Perhaps men left the House of Lords and travelled straight to the boats to ferry them over to the pleasure grounds. I also thought about Frances Bankes letters that talked about visiting her son when he was ill while at the boys’ school in Westminster. The element of her life story inspired an element of The Reckless Love of an Heir, as she sat on an upturned bucket beside his bed, did she dine at the pleasure gardens when they were in their townhouse.

Certainly, lots of the wealthy families owned houses in the area between Westminster and Vauxhall, as all the street names declare.

It was just fascinating for me to stand there and look down and it made my imagination run with ideas on how people lived in the past. That area of London would have been flooded with the best society.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s talk about the macabre: was Byron truly so original

Dressing up in macabre costumes and seeking to frighten others for pleasure has been

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Lord Byron

considered as entertainment for centuries. The Victorians loved their gothic reconstructions and the Tudors loved the intrigue of hiding behind masks and dressing up so they could pretend to be someone else. Then the infamous Lord Byron set up his group of wild friends at his ancient, mostly fallen down, Newstead Abbey. There they drank their toasts from the crown of a monk’s skull while playing blind man’s buff with his pet bear. Byron also loved to dress in false monks’ robes and to lead his friends in ceremonies. There is also the picture of him in his Turkish costume which again professes how much he liked to lead fashion and act a part.

Byron liked to be one of the ringleaders in shocking others with his macabre behaviour. For instance setting Shelley, his young mistress and her sister to writing ghost stories on a dark stormy night abroad;  the tale that became Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But was Byron really as original as he would have had his friends think? Or was he flattering another man, a man, by his actions, I would guess he revered for achieving shocking acclaim years before Byron.

IMG_1004You may have heard of the Hellfire Club, set up by Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer. The Hellfire Club was established long before Byron’s birth. To the left is Dashwood, dressed as both a monk and in eastern attire.

 

But the similarity in Byron’s behaviour extends not only to his choice of costumes but also his choice of macabre games and there setting.

Sir Francis also loved a mock ceremony and while Byron had inherited his abbey, Sir Francis had rented one solely to host his ceremonies. You can read more about Medmenham Abbey on the board in the picture below.

When the Hellfire Club met the men wore their monks’ robes the women wore masks to cover their identity and they went by pseudonyms.

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Byron’s last supper in England, that he ate in the company his closest friends (those who knew his most shocking secrets and overlooked them), is often spoken of. Yet Sir Francis took his ceremonies much further towards the shocking by naming his clubs superiors as twelve men, the apostles. These twelve men wore different robes to those who were deemed inferior. Sir Francis saw himself as the group’s antichrist and toasted the devil.

Sir Francis began clearing out the tunnels of the former mine in 1748 to create his network of caves. He dug down into a hill beneath his family church and set up his inner temple, where only his apostles might go, 100 meters, exactly beneath, the church. He rented Medmenham Abbey in 1750 probably about the time the caves were also finished and the clubs pattern of macabre ceremonies began.

The Hellfire Club’s gatherings in the caves began in the banqueting hall, where after a dinner, served by Dashwood’s servants, they entertained themselves in the niches about the room. Then the twelve superiors separated themselves from the crowd and walked on through more symbolic tunnels, over an underground stream (the river Styx) to the inner temple where no one knows what they got up to because none of them told the tale.

 

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The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama

The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series

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The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all 

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2 

The Passionate Love of a Rake #3

The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5

The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5

The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75  now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks) 😉

The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6 

The Reckless Love of an Heir #7

Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback

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Go to the index

For

  • the story of the real courtesan who inspired  The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
  • another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
  • the prequel excerpts for book #3  The Scandalous Love of a Duke

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional historical and contemporary stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark