A tourist in Rome

If you are a history lover, research can be very addictive, and I love it. Of course, you can follow me on Instagram or Like my Facebook Author Page to catch snippets of research but my recent journey to Rome gathered so much that I thought I’d share this here too.

As I said in my last post my next historical series will follow a group of young poets who move on to begin a grand tour of the European continent and so I wanted to understand what they saw when they visited Rome. I have read things that tell you what life was like for them on the tour. Hedonistic. Then, of course, there is the influence of the grand tour in all the painting collections and Palladian architecture across the UK. But that doesn’t really help me to imagine what their exploration felt like. To understand feelings and emotions I like to go to places, but what I felt I knew would be different today because since the 1700s and 1800s excavations have taken place. So I wanted to know what it would have looked like then to understand what would have interested and inspired my characters. I was thrilled, then, to discover pictures of old paintings on boards all the way around the excavated Roman Forum.

The painting below shows what people would have seen in the area of the forum in 1786-1791. I imagine this was painted from within the tall ruins on the hill opposite the Palantine hill where the Farnese Gardens were created in 1550. It shows the entrance to the Farnese Gardens that had structures decorated with white marble (the marble was no doubt robed from the Roman ruins). If the painter had stepped through the arch of these ruins and turned left, he would have been looking at the Colleseum which was definitely visible in the 1700s  and 1800s and used as a market.


Below are three more paintings of the area from different angles, showing the steps and layout of the entrance to the Farnese Gardens, that were built on top of the ruins of the emperors’ palaces.

  • Bottom right: 1826 – A painting of the view of the Colleseum from the gardens.
  • Left: 1827 – A view of the area from another or Rome’s seven hills, that looks down over the walls and into the gardens. This shows that the Arch that still stands today was a real feature of the area then but actually what would have been prominent for the tourists of the 1700s and 1800s would be the gardens with their marble steps climbing up the hill (the Colosseum is left of this picture).
  • Top right: 1650 – 1700 – A closer view of the entrance to gardens.

Another clue showing how much of the ruins were above ground in the 1700s and 1800s  is a church that was once a Roman temple that stands in the Forum area. The door that is halfway up the wall shows you where the ground was before the excavations began. The whole area had been silted up by the river flooding over the years. So our old tourists would have seen the pillars literally rising out of the ground in front of this church door.


Many areas of Rome would have similarly displayed pillars dramatically rising from the ground like this.



You can see in the painting below from 1842 and beside it the same area today, what it would have been like walking through the streets of Rome when there were the occasional outbreaks of columns.


The guide who took us around the Roman Forum highlighted that the buildings still standing and looking as they did in the 1700s and 1800s were those that had become churches. All Roman buildings that had developed a Christian connection were left mostly intact. The Pantheon is a great example of this.


It is no wonder then that the Palladian style of building came back to the UK after men had completed their grand tour in the 1700s. The Georgian men no longer wanted to live in a castle, Tudor or Jacobean homes, with narrow hallways and low-ceilinged living quarters. They were inspired by bold spaces and towering structures, came home and built them. Thier sons in the 1800s then went on the tour with some expectation of the impressive architecture and sense of history that they would walk through.


The Marlow Intrigues

Discover hours of period drama (2)


The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan  

The Passionate Love of a Rake

The Scandalous Love of a Duke

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue 

The Secret Love of a Gentleman  

The Reckless Love of an Heir 

The Tainted Love of a Captain 

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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.


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.