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.