Archive for December, 2008

Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne

Robert Burns, Auld Lang Syne

Midwinter celebrations  have been celebrated in England since ancient times. In Scotland one such celebration was known as Hogmanay; in England it was called New Year’s Eve. The Gregorian calendar marks December 31st as the last day of the year, but New Year’s Day was not always celebrated on January 1st. In Anglo-Saxon England the year started on the 25th of December. The day has also been celebrated  on March 1st, March 25th, and September 24th, depending on which calendar was used. As early as the 17th century,when the legal year began on March 25th,  Samuel Pepys would write about the passing of the old year on December 31st, eighty years before England moved the start of the year to January 1st.

Father time

Father time

Today we sing  Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight. Commonly thought to be written in the 1700s by the poet Robert Burns, who was inspired by earlier renditions, the song was published after his death in 1796. According to the BBC article, Have Old Connections Been Forgot? BBC news story, the song is “now thought that the tune to match the words was part of the overture for Rosina, an obscure operetta written in 1783 by Englishman William Shield, who was born in Swalwell, Gateshead in 1748.” The words Auld Lang Syne literally mean “old long ago,” or “the good old days.”

Since the days of the Romans, the passage of time has been associated with the god Saturn, who is the inspiration of Old Father Time.  Read my other post about New Year’s Eve at this link.

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Celebration!

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By the end of the 18th century, travel by stage coach was becoming more common in England, especially for the middle and upper classes. Many outlying towns still had no coach services except for those that originated from London, but if one could reach a town or inn that lay along a stage-coach route (by carrier’s wagon, for example) then one could travel to London from any part of the country. People could also opt to travel by Kendal flying wagon, as illustrated below. Travel by stage-coach would have been similar to taking public transportation today, with inns and hostelries taking the place of hotels, motels, and restaurants. A changeover of a team of horses, or feeding them or watering them, would have been the equivalent of filling a tank with gas.

Kendall Flying Wagon, after Rowlandson

Kendal Flying Wagon, after Rowlandson

Dates and times of travel were clearly advertised, including the rates, which were 4 pence or 5 pence for a seat inside the coach, and 2 pence and 3 pence for sitting outside. These costs were prohibitive for the poor, who generally earned a shilling a week (12 pence). A seat outside the coach exposed a traveler to variable weather conditions and hazards, and it was not unusual for passengers to fall off a lurching coach or to be struck by a flying object.

Horses in snow, with passengers alighted and trunks removed

Horses in snow, with passengers alighted to lighten the load

Long distance travel during this time was still a novelty, since the majority of the populace (around 90%) rarely traveled from their place of birth. Most English roads were in poor shape, rutted in good conditions and a muddy quagmire after heavy rains. In addition, people were accustomed to walking long distances, and it was not unusual for laborers to walk 6 miles to work.* The working class would not have chosen to pay for expensive transportation when two sturdy legs could carry them just as well. (Although I imagine a free ride on a friend’s wagon was always welcome.) As with public travel today, passengers could be seated alongside anybody – a considerate traveling companion, someone they instinctively disliked, or a person from a different class or station.

Macadamized roads were just beginning to be introduced during this period and their crushed stone surfaces allowed for greater speed and heavier loads to be carried. Travel time was reduced with these road improvements and with coach modifications, thus a good coach could go as fast as 6.4 miles per hour. This was at the expense of the horses, who lasted only an average of three years pulling heavy loads in all kinds of weather conditions and terrains. Royal Mail coaches went even faster than ordinary coaches, reaching speeds of up to 9 miles per hour, but these elite coaches represented only about 11% of the total coach mileage at its height. Below is a 1754 advertisement for the Edinburgh Stage Coach. Setting out on Tuesday in summer, the coach reached London in ten days. In winter, the journey would take 12 days.  Ultimately, after road and coach improvements and before more efficient trains replaced coach travel as the preferred mode of transportation, the 400 mile trip between London and Edinburgh had been reduced to 40 hours, including all stops and relays (Harper Book of Facts).

Stage-coach and Mail in Days of Yore A Picturesque History of the Coaching Age … By Charles George Harper

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The Tavern Meal

Inquiring reader: This year I will endeavor to illuminate the lives of regency gentlemen when they are away from their families in a way that (I humbly hope) will add to your enjoyment of reading novels and histories set in this era.

During the late Georgian or early Regency era, restaurants were still a French concept. When not dining at home, an English gentlemen ordered meals in clubs, taverns, coffee houses, or inns. In 1798, a traveler named John Byrne wrote:

Rowlandson's depiction of a tavern meal

Rowlandson's depiction of a tavern meal

A London gentleman steps into a coffeehouse, orders venison and turtle, in the instant; and (if known) a delicious bottle of port or claret: upon a clean cloth, without form, he dines at the moment of his appetite and walks away at the moment, he is satisfied; neither opportuned by civilities, or harrass’d by freedoms; he labours not under obligation, he has not submitted to ridicule, or offended from a want of high breeding.”

These institutions were not always so genteel as described in the above passage. Englishmen had been meeting  in clubs and taverns as far back as the age of King Charles II, when the men congregated to discuss political matters. Groups with similar political affiliations (Jacobeans, for example) would assemble in an atmosphere of drinking and conviviality that often turned boisterous and prompted the 17th century poet Ben Johnson to draw up the rules for guidance entitled Rules for the Tavern Academy; or, Laws for the Beaux-Esprits. A reporter of The New York Times wrote in 1879:

These convivial assemblies give an appearance of licentiousness to this period which in strictness does not belong to it. It must be remembered that domestic entertainments were at that time rare; the accommodation of private houses was ill-adapted for the purposes of social meeting; and there only remained taverns and ordinairies for such meetings to be held. Long after the period we refer to we hear of the eminent characters of the day meeting at pastry cooks’, coffee-houses, and taverns. Addisson tells us that most all the celebrated clubs of his day were founded upon eating and drinking, which are points, he says, wherein most men agree, in which the learned and illiterate, the dull and the airy, and the philosopher and the buffoon, can all of them bear a part. He then refers to the “Kit-Cat,” the “Beef steak,” and “October” clubs, whose names imply that neither of them would be averse to eating and drinking. The Kit-Cat was founded in 1700, and was held at the house of one Christopher Kat, a pastry-cook, renowned for his mutton pies. Another club, held at the King’s Head, in Pall Mall, arrogantly called itself “The World,” of which Lord Stanhope (afterward Lord Chesterfield,) Lord Herbert, and other leading men of the day were members, and at which epigrams were scratched on the glasses by each member after dinner. Once, when Dr. Young was invited to the club, he excused himself from conforming to this custom because he had no diamond. Lord Stanhope lent him his, and he immediately wrote: “Accept a miracle instead of wit: See two dull lines, with Stanhope’s pencil writ.” – Some Old London Clubs. Origin of the Social Organizations of the Present Day; From the London Globe, The New York Time, January 12, 1879

One of the most famous and popular taverns in the 18th century was Pontack’s Tavern:

After the destruction of the White Bear Tavern in the Great Fire of 1666 the proximity of the site for all purposes of business induced M. Pontack, the son of the President of Bordeaux, owner of a famous claret district, to establish a tavern with all the novelties of French cookery, with his father’s head as a sign, whence it was popularly called Pontack’s Head. The dinners were from four or five shillings a head to a guinea, or what sum you pleased. Swift frequented the tavern and writes to Stella: ‘Pontack told us although his wine was so good he sold it cheaper than others; he took but seven shillings a flask. Art not these pretty rates?

The Fellows of the Royal Society dined at Pontack’s until 1746 when they removed to the Devil Tavern. There is a Token of the White Bear in the Deaufoy Collection, and Mr Burn tells us from Metamorphoses of the Town, a rare tract, 1731, of Pontack’s “guinea ordinary,” “ragout of fatted snails,” and “chickens not two hours from the shell.”  In January 1735, Mrs Susannah Austin who lately kept Pontack’s and had acquired a considerable fortune, was married to William Pepys banker, in Lombard street. Clubs and Club Life in London With Anecdotes of Its Famous Coffee Houses, Hostelries, and Taverns, from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Time, By John Timbs

With time, taverns and inns began to offer more than a mere room for meeting, drinking, and dining, and the difference between an ordinary alehouse and a respectable inn became less apparent. New functions were added, such as overnight lodging, and an increasing number of leisure activities for the community began to be offered: music and dance assemblies (like those in Meryton and Highbury in Jane Austen’s novels), plays, and sports generated as much, if not more income, than food or ale.  As their functions increased, these establishments were renovated and became increasingly spacious and well-fitted.  Some coffee houses, which often consisted of nothing more than a large room open to the public in a private house, began to “offer accommodation for men, horses, and coaches, along with ‘as good wine (and at as cheap a rate) as can be had in London.’ It was not unusual for coffeehouses to take in lodgers in order to supplement their income.”* In such a case, the line between a public establishment and private house began to blur, especially for female lodgers who might encounter the proprietor’s son or a strange man in the hallway at a most inconvenient time.


By 1800, the men’s clubs in Pall Mall, such as White’s, a former chocolate house, oozed exclusivity.  Whether they attracted the working classes or the aristocracy, clubs, taverns, inns, and coffee houses remained largely male enclaves. While women often stayed in inns, taverns, and in coffee houses as lodgers (preferably with a family member or chaperone), they would not meet there to socialize. Indeed, a woman who frequented these public establishments gained a certain ‘reputation.’ “A ‘whore’ was not necessarily a prostitute pure and simple, but a woman who was thought to have violated communal standards of sexual propriety. A sure-fire way of breaking these codes and thus gaining a reputation for immodesty was by frequenting public houses such as taverns, alehouses, or coffeehouses.”*


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First Christmas Card, 1843

First Christmas Card, 1843

Jane Austen would not have recognized this Christmas card,  for it was commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843, 26 years after her death and the same year that Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. (The British Postal Museum and Archive). Artist John Calcott Horsely designed the card, which shows the poor being fed  and clothed on either side of a classic triptych arrangement. The center of the card depicts a group of people celebrating Christmas and holding up a toast in celebration, including children, which set up a hue and cry with the Temperance Society. The card is about the size of a regular postcard. Prior to 1843 the upper classes would send each other signed calling cards at Christmas, but Coles’s decorative paper Christmas greeting became rapidly popular, and by 1860 Christmas cards had become widespread.

At the time he commissioned the card, Henry Cole worked in the Public Records Office of London. A busy man, he had been a Captain in the Dragoon Guards, was involved in the introduction of the penny post, helped organise the Great Exhibition in 1851 and was a founder of the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 1843, his schedule was such that he had no time to write to every member of his family and all his friends at Christmas, and so he commissioned JC Horsley to design a card he could send out. Cole had over 1,000 of the cards printed by Joseph Cundell (see the lithographic proof below.)  After Cole sent his cards to friends and family, he sold the rest via the post.

Proof of the first Christmas card

Proof of the first Christmas card

At 6d (sixpence) each, these hand-painted cards were considered a luxury item.  Since the average weekly wage at the time was around a shilling, such a frivolous purchase was unavailable to the working classes.  The cards were sold from a shop on 12 Old Bond Street, and few of the original cards remain today – about a dozen to twenty in all – depending on the source. One example sold in December, 2005 for £8,500.

Centuries earlier the first Christmas card had most likely been made in Germany, but the Cole Horsley card marks the true commercial Christmas card. After this time (1860’s), Christmas cards were produced by the same publishers that created Valentine’s cards. Coupled with the introduction of a cheap and regular post, the habit of sending these cards by all classes of society took off. An original version of the card can be viewed at the V&A museum.

More about the first Christmas Card

From my blog to your computer –

have a fabulous holiday season! – Vic

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Win a copy of a Jane Austen audio book!

A gentle reminder to readers that the Jane Austen birthday celebration contest is still open for seven unabridged copies of Jane Austen’s novels by Naxos AudioBooks until December 31st. Just leave a comment answering why you love reading or viewing Jane Austen, and seven lucky Janeites will be the winners of these wonderful audio books. What a great way to start the New Year!

Follow this link to the original post on my other blog, Jane Austen Today, and leave a comment today!

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sickDuring Jane Austen’s time, the woman of the house was in charge of making and dispensing simple medical remedies for common complaints, such as a cold, headache, or a rash. Recipes for herbal remedies were handed down from mother to daughter. A young girl’s education included knowledge about herbal properties, growing vital herbs in the kitchen garden, and maintaining a book of recipes for simple common cures. (Eighteenth Century Remedies and Receipts.) Recipes were available in the common cookbooks of the era, such as Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife and Hanna Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. People drank hot wine made from the berries of the elderberry tree to ease cold and flu symptoms; made cold lozenges (see the Hannah Glasse “recipe” below); and concocted soothing syrups and herbal tea infusions.

The following instructions for a method of a cure (making cold tablets) were printed in the 15th edition of The Compleat Housewife or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion, a 1753 cookbook compiled by Eliza Smith and published in London. (Official Site of Colonial Williamsburg)

Take pearls, crab’s-eyes, red coral, white amber, burnt hartshorn, and oriental bezoar, of each half an ounce; the black tips of crabs-claws three ounces; make all into a paste, with a jelly of vipers, and roll it into little balls, which dry and keep for use.


The recipe for cold lozenges by Hannah Glasse uses more commonly known ingredients. (The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, p. 385.)

Take two pounds of common white loaf-sugar, beat it well in a mortar, dissolve six ounces of Spanish liquorice in a little water; one ounce of gum-arabic dissolved likewise; add thereto a little oil of anise-seed; mix them well to a proper consistence, and cut them into small lozenges; let them lie in a band-box on the top of an oven a considerable time to dry, shaking the box sometimes. – Home Remedies, PDF doc

Herbs in the kitchen garden at Lissadell, Ireland

Herbs in the kitchen garden at Lissadell, Ireland

Listed below are the ways an herbal remedy can be prepared (from The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run):

An infusion: A liquid made by soaking an herb – usually its dried leaves or flowers – in liquid. An herbal tea is really an infusion.
A decoction: A liquid made by boiling an herb.
A poultice: A soft, moist mass of bread, meal, herbs, etc. applied to the body.
A plaister: A solid or semi solid remedy, spread on cloth or leather and applied to the body.
An electuary: Powder dried herb and mix with three times as much honey.
An oil: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in oil to extract the essences of the herb. Usually applied externally.
An ointment: Fresh or dried herb is soaked in lard to extract the essences of the herb, then mixed with beeswax and turpentine. Applied externally.

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By the end of the eighteenth century, fashionable gentlemen began to dine with regularity in large taverns. As tavern food gained in popularity, the chefs who cooked the fare began to publish their own cookbooks.  These new culinary stars claim not to have learned their trade in a private household, but through methodical study as an apprentice.* The Universal Cook: And City and Country Housekeeper (1792) was written by John Francis Collingwood and John Woollams, the two principal cooks at The Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand. In their cookbook, which had the distinction of also being printed in French*, the two chefs discuss the meats, produce, and fruits that were in season. The foods listed below were common for the month of December:
Beef, Mutton, Veal, Pork, House-Lamb, and Doe Venison.

Geese, Chickens, Wild Ducks, Turkeys, Pullets, Pigeons, Capons, Fowls, Hares, Rabbits. Woodcocks, Snipes, Larks, Teals, Widgeons, Dottrels, Partridges, and Pheasants.

First course

First course

Turbot, Gurnets, Smelts, Cod, Gudgeon, Eels, Sturgeon, Dorees, Codlings, Soles, Cockles, Mussels, Holobets, Bearbet, Carp, and Oysters.

Cabbages, Savoys, Potatoes, Skirrets, Garlick, Rocombole, Brocoli, purple and white; Scorzonera, Salfifie, Celery, Endive, Carrots, Leeks, Beets, Parsnips, Turnips, Lettuces, Cresses, All sorts of small Sallad, Onions, Shalots, Cardoons, Forced Asparagus, Spinach, Parsley, Thyme, and  All sorts of Pot Herbs.

Apples, Pears, Medlars, Services, Chesnuts, Hazle Nuts, Grapes, and Walnuts. The Universal Cook And City and Country Housekeeper By Francis Collingwood, John Woollams

Second course

Second course

Preparing the kitchen garden in December

Collingwood and Woollams also devoted a chapter of their cookbook to the kitchen garden. In December there were few plants that continued to grow, so much of their advice is spent on digging the soil in trenches and preparing it for spring sowing; as well as saving cauliflower, broccoli, and artichokes from hard frost.


DUNGING and digging the ground is the principal business to be done in the kitchen garden this month and laying it in ridges to enrich for sowing and planting after Christmas with some principal and early crops for the ensuing spring and summer Dress your artichoke beds by first cutting down any remaining Items …Pay diligent attention to your asparagus hotbeds to keep up the heat of the beds by linings of hot dung and to admit air in mild days… Take up your red rooted beet on a dry day and let them be placed in sand and under cover for use in case of hard frosts… In all moderate weather give air to your cauliflowers in frames  The Universal Cook And City and Country Housekeeper By Francis Collingwood, John Woollams

The Universal Cook’s Bill of Fare for December describes a two-course meal consisting of 16 dishes and two soups. I’ve listed two recipes from the Second Course that use methods and ingredients that are still common:

diningroom-2005Ragout of Celery (From the Universal Cook)
To ragoo Celery, CUT the white part of the celery into lengths and boil it till it is tender. Then fry and drain it, flour it and put to it some rich gravy, a very little red wine, salt, pepper, nutmeg and catchup. Give it a boil and then send it up to table. The Universal Cook And City and Country Housekeeper By Francis Collingwood, John Woollams

*All Manners of Food, Stephen Mennell, p. 99

Other posts about Regency food on this blog:

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This link to All Edges Gilt features a Johann Zoffanny illustration of Jane Austen based on a disputed painting, the Rice portrait by Ozias Humphry. Zoffanny’s fronticepiece is found in a 1906 publication of Sense and Sensibility. In Johann’s clumsy drawing, Jane’s head is too large and her feet are too small. The rest of the proportions are close enough.

Humphry’s portrait famously failed to sell at a Christie’s auction in New York in April, 2007.

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christmas-tree1Fact: Queen Charlotte introduced the Christmas tree to England. Recently I read in Yahoo answers.com that the Christmas tree was introduced to England by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. The majority of the readers had “voted” that this must be so. Wrong. While he and Queen Victoria popularized the custom, they did not start the tradition.

In 1800, Queen Charlotte, the German-born wife of King George III and mother of the Prince Regent, placed a decorated yew tree in Queen’s Lodge, Windsor for the children of leading families. She had also arranged a ‘pyramid of toys upon the table’ to hand out as gifts.  Dr. John Watkins, the Queen’s biographer, wrote the following description:

In the middle of the room stood an immense tub with a yew tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins in papers, fruits and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked around and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore together with a toy and then all returned home, quite delighted. – Windsor Castle and the Christmas Tree

Another contemporary writer penned this observation:

A fir tree, about as high again as any of us, lighted all over with small tapers, several little wax dolls among the branches in different places, and strings of almonds and raisins alternately tied from one to the other, with skipping ropes for the boys, and each bigger girl had muslin for a frock, a muslin handkerchief, and a fan, and a sash, all prettily done up in a handkerchief, and a pretty necklace and earrings besides.

More about Christmas traditions during the regency era:

On this site:

On other sites:

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Born December 16, 1775

WIN one of six Jane Austen NAXOS books on tape by leaving a comment on Jane Austen Today. Click on the link for an opportunity to win a high quality audio book.

Also win a two-pack of Jane Austen note cards and Christmas cards on Austenblog.

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The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer has arrived just in time for the holidays. This historical saga of William, Duke of Normandy, who defeated the Saxons in The Battle of Hastings in 1066, is told vividly, accurately, and with mastery by an author who was able to do her research using the rare resources in the London Library.* The story covers William from his infancy until his victory. Although this book is mostly historical, it wouldn’t be a Georgette Heyer novel without some romance. The proud Matilda, daughter of Count Baldwin of Flanders, balks at her betrothal to the baseborn William, which sets up an interesting tension:

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The Lady Matilda rose slowly to her feet, and made a reverence to her father. Speaking in a cool, very audible voice, and with her hands clasped demurely together, she said, picking her words: “My liege and father, I thank you for your care of me. If it be your will that I should wed again be sure that I know my duty towards you, and will show myself obedient to your commands as befits my honour and yours.” She paused. Watching her close, Raoul saw the smile lift the corners of her mouth, and was prepared for the worst. Veiling her eyes she said: “Yet let me beseech you, beau sire, that you will bestow my hand upon one whose birth can match with mine, and not, for the sake of our honour, permit the blood of a daughter of Flanders to mingle with that of one who is basely descended from a race of burghers.” She ended as coolly as she had begun, and making a second reverence went back to her stool and sat down, looking at her hands.

A stricken silence hung heavily over the company. There were startled looks, and men wondered how the Norman envoys would stomach this insult. Montogoméri flushed, and took a step forward. “Rood of God, is this to be our answer?” he demanded.

Raoul intervened, addressing himself to Count Baldwin. “Lord Count, I dare not take such an answer back to my master,” he said gravely. Surveying the Count’s shocked face he came to the conclusion that the discourteous reply had been prepared without his knowledge. Curbing Montogoméri with a frown, he said: “My lord, I await Flander’s reply to my master’s proposals.”

Count Baldwin availed himself of the loophole gratefully. He rose to his feet, and made the best of a bad business. “Messires,” he said, “Flanders is sensible of honour done her, and if she is obliged to bestow our daughter in marriage on the Duke of Normandy, were it not for the repugnance the Lady Matilda feels towards a second marriage.” So he began, and went on at length, smoothing away the insult. The envoys withdrew, one thoughtful, the other smouldering with indignation. What Count Baldwin said to his daughter is not known, but it is certain he sent for Raoul de Harcourt late that evening and was closeted with him alone for a full hour.

As with Simon the Coldheart, Georgette employs a more old-fashioned writing style for this early era in both language and detail. This makes the book harder to read than her regencies, but also more realistic in tone. She also writes the tale through Raoul de Harcourt’s eyes, a fictional character, so that we never quite get into William’s mind or understand his motives.  However, for those who cannot get enough of historical biographies, this newly reissued Georgette Heyer history is a must read! Order the book at Amazon or at Sourcebooks.

Other Georgette Heyer Reviews Sit Below

These Georgette Heyer books, available this holiday season, will be reviewed on this blog and Jane Austen’s World through mid-December: Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro’s Daughter, and The Conqueror.

Cotillion, Simon the Coldheart, The Reluctant Widow, Faro's Daugher, and The Conqueror

*The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge, The Bodley Head, Ltd, London, 1984.

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Little Green Street
Little Green Street

Little Green Street is in danger. This narrow, cobblestone street is the only intact Georgian street left in London. It survived the London blitz in World War Two, but will be hard pressed to survive a contractor’s plan to flood the street (more a lane or pedestrian path) for four years with lorries carrying building supplies to and debris from a landlocked site. (View A Walk Up Little Green Street below to see how the lives of residents will be affected.)
Most of us have come to associate Georgian architecture with the great or exceptional houses that are shown in tv and movie adaptations of classic novels, or visits to Great Britain. The majority of people lived in humbler dwellings. Second “rate” houses were built by merchants, for example, and were no more than 500-900 sq ft in size. These houses, small by modern standards, would have been termed “large”. The most important rooms would have been given the largest windows. On Green Street, “eight of the homes are bow-fronted and were originally shops, selling goods such as ribbon and coffee. The street’s name also has historical connotations, as Highgate Road was once called Green Street. Historian Gillian Tindall, whose best-selling book The Fields Beneath chronicles the growth of Kentish Town, has called the plans ridiculous. She said: “They cannot be allowed to rip this street up. It is important as a ‘survival’ of historic homes – there is nowhere else like it.”-Camden New Journal

Generally speaking,  the preservation of grand buildings and palaces is guarded more zealously by zoning laws than the humbler homes of the middle and merchant classes. To jeopardize an historic street for the sake of “progress” strikes me as supreme folly and short sightedness, especially when this is the ONLY remaining street in London that is truly all Georgian.

Save Little Green Street

A Walk Up Little Green Street

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