Monday, May 27, 2013

On a Regency Street

    Come and take a walk with me down a Regency street.

    By the end of the Regency period, the City of London had more than a million inhabitants. 

    As you can imagine, there was an enormous amount of noisy traffic and streets vibrated from the constant pounding by wheels of all sorts.

    Coach loaded with passengers. 

    Public coaches, private carriages, hackney coaches, merchant wagons, vendor carts, and wheelbarrows.   

    Hackney Coach 

    Apart from the stage coaches which stopped at inns on their routes to more distant places, there was no public transport.  Ordinary people walked or occasionally used a sedan chair and the rich used carriages or rode horses.

    Couple in a Curricle. 

    A sedan chair designed by Robert Adam for Quee...
    A sedan chair designed by Robert Adam for Queen Charlotte, 1775. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    London inhabitants mainly kept to the quarter of the city where they lived and worked.

    The wealthier classes rarely ventured into the more crowded areas like the East End and docklands but stayed in their own area of Westminster and St. James’s.

    So the streets of St. James’s were crowded in the afternoons with the fashionable throng as they shopped, paraded, met acquaintances, bowed or curtseyed, raised their hats, and were introduced to those they didn't know.

    The time of day was passed with a lot of polite conversation and young bloods would stroll the streets in pairs or groups and plan their next entertainment. Perhaps a prizefight, a cock fight, or perhaps a visit to one of the many gambling houses.  

    Street markets and annual fairs had been replaced by lots of little shops, mainly occupying the ground floor rooms of houses with street frontage.

    Small paned bow-windows displayed goods for customers to view, though it was thought vulgar for goods to carry a price ticket. Shops opened at six in the morning and closed at eight, or later, in the evening and merchandise was stacked in parcels at the back of the shop.

    Shoplifting was common. Thieves waited to strike until a shopkeeper turned his back to collect a package for a customer.

    Besides the elegantly dressed nobility, the streets were full of the poor. Dirty and ragged beggars, men, women and children, lurked in alleyways and begged for money.

    Crossing a Dirty Street. 

    Small children as young as five were apprenticed as chimney sweeps under the control of harsh masters who dragged them from house to house and forced them to climb inside sooty or even hot chimneys. The children had sores on their knees and elbows, lungs filled with soot and dirt, and sometimes they were severely burned while they brushed inside chimneys.

    London was pushing its boundaries out into the countryside in the areas of Chelsea, Highbury, and Pimlico. Livestock could still be seen on the streets of London and cattle and sheep were driven through the streets every morning to provide food for the growing population.

    Pigs still rooted in the waste in Westminster and droves of turkeys moved along streets. St Martin Church was still in the fields and cows walked along Kensington High Street. 

    All in all, London streets during the Regency Era were a rowdy and dirty mix of classes and cultures.  

    In Embracing Scandal, my latest historical romance, Lady Rebecca Jamison is familiar with many of the streets that a well-bred lady would never even drive past. But Becca is different. She teaches women who have been left in financial distress how to manage their finances and invest, secretly, in lucrative railway shares so they can rebuild their nest eggs. 

    Hope you enjoyed strolling down a Regency street with me,

    Suzi Love    

    Embracing Scandal took second place in the prestigious Emerald Award for Romance Writers Australia, a three round, full manuscript, reader judged contest. 

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Sasha Cottman said...

So my home town was noisy,grubby, full of people but still a brilliant place to shop? Nothing has changed in 200 years. Thanks for the great post Suzi

Venetia Green said...

Wow, what a wonderful post, Suzi! I feel like I know Regency London inside out now. I love how your heroine crosses the borders between privilege and poverty in Embracing Scandal.
I was in Bath, England, last week, that most thoroughly Georgian town, and went there from London. The difference between the two was quite stunning. Bath was clean, relaxed and genteel, and London was almost the polar opposite. I wonder if it was the same in Regency times?

JaneB said...

You really have painted a picture of London streets with this info, many thanks. Love it.

Love your blurb for Embracing Scandal too!

Jane B

Regan said...

Very fun, great post!

Maggi Andersen said...

Great information and images, thanks Suzi!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the delightful stroll Suzi.
I love the Regency comics ... eg the women and their mustaches hahaha
As to shoplifting ... many things have not changed.

Alison Stuart said...

Thank you for painting this vivid picture of London life, Suzi. If you were to take a stroll in Kensington Park, what time of day would you expect to find others of the aristocracy strolling?

Suzi Love said...

Thanks for commenting, everyone, and I'm glad you enjoyed our London stroll.
Alison, the usual time to out and about, strolling, and seeing while being seen, was late afternoon. The nominated time was 5pm, though I imagine it would have only been in high summer that it was warm enough and light enough to stroll in the park.