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Archive for the ‘Regency Travel’ Category

Inquiring readers: While our world travels have been curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can think of no better a way to take a tour than with Tony Grant, who has served as a guide in Jane Austen country for many years.

Map of Surrey

Map of Surrey

Map of Surrey

Jane Austen criss crossed the county of Surrey many, many times in her lifetime. Surrey is the county north of Hampshire. All the direct routes from Basingstoke, Steventon and Chawton to London pass through Surrey. She mentions Surrey places in her letters, providing a sense of what it was like to travel the roads of the 18th and 19th centuries.  Emma, her completed Surrey novel, is set in the fictitious Highbury and Hartfield located right in the middle of the county, surrounded by the real Surrey, Dorking, Mickleham, Box Hill, Cobham and with Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames to the north. Jane’s earlier attempt at another Surrey novel, The Watsons, begun while living in Bath in 1804 was never completed. The few pages of The Watsons that were completed set the action mostly in Dorking but also some outlying places.  Croydon, a large town, is repeatedly referred to and,” a village about three miles distant,” from Dorking, Westhumble, is a template for Stanton. Jane stayed at Great Bookham just north of Dorking with her relations, the Cookes. It is a short carriage ride away from Box Hill. Just north of Great Bookham is Leatherhead which has a debatable role in this account and to the north west of Great Bookham is Cobham, another place of interest mentioned in Emma. Interestingly a well-known, famous town in Surrey–Epsom– also gets a passing mention in Pride and Prejudice. It is amazing to see how the places and locations in Surrey came together in Jane’s imagination and how she used them in her novels. It’s like pieces of a jigsaw fitting together neatly. 

Great Bookham

Photo of St. Nicholas, Great Bookham

St. Nicholas, Great Bookham. Photo by Tony Grant

I am going to introduce Great Bookham first, because although Jane knew many places in Surrey well and visited most of them many times she actually spent lengthy periods of time in Great Bookham, staying with her aunt and uncle and cousins, the Cookes. Cassandra Cooke, her mother’s cousin, was Jane ‘s aunt. You might notice, the name Cassandra seems popular within the extended family as well as her immediate family. It is the same name as both Jane’s sister and mother. Cassandra Cooke was a budding writer. A forgotten novel called, Battleridge, is her contribution to posterity. Jane’s uncle Samuel Cooke was the vicar of St Nicholas Church in Great Bookham. The Cookes were well acquainted with Fanny Burney, who lived in the village with her husband, General D’Arblay, and their young son. The Reverend Cooke asked Fanny Burney‘s father for advice about church music. Burneys father, Charles Burney, was a reputed musician and composer. It is from Great Bookham that Jane first visited Box Hill a few miles away. Great Bookham, like Highbury and Hartfield, is at the centre of the geographical world of both The Watsons and Emma.

Box Hill

Image Mickleham to the right of Box Hill

Mickleham to the right of Box Hill. Photo by Tony Grant

So, to Box Hill, a mere few miles east of Great Bookham.

“They had a very fine day for Box Hill……. Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and everybody had a burst of admiration on first arriving.” Emma

Later, Frank Churchill, as though proclaiming from a vast church pulpit, (which indeed, if you stand on the top of Box Hill and look out over the surrounding countryside, does feel like that,) announces grandly and perhaps grandiosely

“Let everybody on the hill hear me if they can. Let my accents swell to Mickleham on one side and Dorking on the other.”

Box Hill is part of the chalk incline that forms the North Downs in Surrey. It was a beauty spot, where visitors loved to look out on the beautiful surrounding countryside in Jane’s time and that is the situation still today. A National Trust shop and café is at the top. A 19th century fort built as part of a line of forts to help repulse a French invasion is there too. Throughout the 18th and most of the 19th century, France was always a threat to Britain real and imaginary. Pre Raphaelite artists painted there, poets wrote poetry about the countryside and John Logie Baird, the inventor of the television, carried out experiments from his cottage at the top of the hill. It is a nature reserve, the site of a very strange burial, and is still a great picnic site, as Emma was anticipating.

Mickleham

Mickleham

Mickleham, photo by Tony Grant

If you do as Frank Churchill informs us, look out from Box Hill with Mickleham to one side and Dorking to the other you will be facing west straight towards Great Bookham. Mickleham is located at the foot of Box Hill on its north west side. It is home to a  junior school called Box Hill School. St Michael’s Church in the village is where Fanny Burney and General D’Arblay were married. General D’Arblay was a French exile, who fled France for England after the rise of Maximillian Robespierre. He and other emigres were living at Juniper Hall on the edge of Mickleham. The house was leased from 1792 to 1793 by David Jenkinson, a wealthy landowner, to a group of French emigres which included Anne Louise Germaine de Staël, a writer who Jane Austen admired, although de Stael was dismissive of Jane Austen’s writing. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-PérigordLouis, comte de Narbonne-Lara grandson of King Louis XV of France, and General Alexandre D’Arblay were among the key emigres staying at Juniper Hall. D’Arblay met Fanny Burney in the Templeton Room here. 

Dorking

Image Dorking, the Red Lion Hotel, 1904 Postcard

Dorking, the Red Lion Hotel, 1904 Postcard

Dorking is located south west of Box Hill. From Stanton ( Mickleham) the two Watson sisters  travelled by the turnpike road which led to the east end of the town. As they entered the town they could see the White Hart Inn on their right, where the ball they were so anticipating was to take place, and the church steeple of St Martins just behind the inn. In the Penguin Classic version of The Watsons the editor, Claire Lamoy suggests that The White Hart was in reality The Red Lion Inn, located in Dorking High Street which Jane visited while staying at Great Bookham. The Red Lion backed on to the churchyard of St Martins Church. The inn does not exist nowadays. A modern row of shops stands in its place. Many buildings in Dorking do originate from the 18th century and some earlier. It is an ancient market town. Dorking has links to The Pilgrim fathers. William Mullins a shoe maker from Dorking was on that first voyage of The Mayflower. His shop still stands in the High Street and is now a coffee shop. There are also connections to Dickens and Vaughn Williams, the 20th century composer.

Croydon

Image of Croydon Town Hall and Art Gallery, by Tony Grant

Croydon Town Hall and Art Gallery. Photo by Tony Grant.

In The Watsons the town of Croydon, about 17 miles from Dorking, is mentioned a number of times. Rich relations of the Watsons live there. It is where Emma Watson has been living with an aunt. When the story starts her aunt has died and Emma has recently returned to her family in Stanton.

Cobham

Image of Cobham churchyard

Cobham churchyard photo by Tony Grant

Cobham, north west of Great Bookham, has a cameo appearance in Emma. John Knightley’s wife Isabella, in praise of Mr Weston, states,

“and ever since his kindness last September twelvemonth in writing that note, at twelve o’clock at night, on purpose to assure me that there was no scarlet fever at Cobham, I have been convinced there could not be a more feeling heart nor a better man in existence.”

I have always thought that Cobham fits a description of Highbury and Hartfield. Many of the features of Cobham are the same. But you can find similar features in most country towns and large villages. There are the church, a mill, a local school, old coaching inns, houses for the local gentry and a large estate such as Mr Knightley’s a mile from the centre of town. Cobham has Painshill Park on its outskirts and Jane herself mentions it in a letter to Cassandra when travelling through leafy Surrey on one of her many visits to London. 

Kingston upon Thames

Image of O Druids head coaching inn Kingston

O Druids head coaching inn, Kingston. Photo by Tony Grant.

Kingston upon Thames is an important location in Emma. Mr Martin and also Mr Knightley go to Kingston regularly.

Harriet after meeting Robert Martin in the street reports to Emma

“He has not been able to get, “The Romance of the Forest,” yet. He was so busy the last time he was in Kingston that he quite forgot it, but he goes again tomorrow.”

Kingston used to have a large cattle market on the edge of town The area where it was located is still called The Cattle Market to this day. The municipal swimming baths and sports centre is on the site. It had an apple market, and that spot is still called The Apple Market, and also a large central market in the middle of the town where fishmongers, butchers, and fruit and vegetables from market gardens were sold. Fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables are sold from market stalls in the same location today. A few of the 18th century coaching inns still exist, The Griffin and The Druids Head are still pubs and inns, and the site of The Crown Inn that Jane Austen knew well is a department store that still retains a magnificent 18th century carved oak staircase. She often mentioned her visits to Kingston in letters to Cassandra as she travelled on the way to London. Kingston was an important place for carriages to change horses.

To Cassandra. Wednesday 15-Thursday 16 September 1813 from Henrietta Street

“… We had a very good journey-Weather and roads excellent-the three stages for 1s-6d & our only misadventure the being delayed about a quarter of an hour at Kingston for Horse, & being obliged to put up with a pair belonging to a Hackney Coach & their Coachman which left no room on the Barouche box for Lizzy.”

Jerry Abershaw

Black and white etching of Louis Jeremiah or Jerry Abershaw, 1773-1795. Highwayman, National Gallery of Scotland

Louis Jeremiah or Jerry Abershaw, 1773-1795. Highwayman, National Gallery of Scotland

Kingston has a more chilling aspect to i,t which has a relevance to Northanger Abbey. On the main road from Kingston into the centre of London the route passed through a remote wild area of heath and woodland. In 1795, at Tibbets Corner (the Putney, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Village junction) beside Wimbledon Common, a young highwayman called Jerry Abershawe was detained and executed. His body hung at Tibbets Corner inside a gibbet to rot and be picked to pieces by carrion crows as a warning to all highwaymen. In Northangar Abbey General Tilney sends the teenage Catherine Moreland away from the Abbey by herself in a public coach. Highwaymen were a danger. Even Jane’s brothers would not let her travel independently. Perhaps Jane and Cassandra witnessed Abershawe’s body in the gibbet. His body would have been left there until nothing was left. It would take a year or two to disappear.

Richmond upon Thames

Photo of Richmond Green The Churchills lived here.

Richmond Green. The Churchills lived here. Photo by Tony Grant.

Richmond upon Thames further north along The Thames from Kingston also has an importance in Emma. The Churchill’s removed from London to Richmond because of Mrs Churchill’s health.  

“It soon appeared that London was not the place for her. She could not endure its noise. Her nerves were under continual irritation and suffering; and by the ten days’ end, her nephew’s letter to Randalls communicated a change of plan. They were going to remove to Richmond. Mrs Churchill had been recommended to the medical skill of an eminent person there.”

I know Richmond well. It is just seven miles north of Richmond Park from where I live. It has an amazing history with connections to the nobility and the Monarchy. A Tudor palace was located at Richmond and also just outside of Richmond is Kew Gardens and Kew Palace where George III and his family spent a lot of time. Richmond was a very well connected town. Jane used this in Emma as an underlying comment about Frank Churchill.

Epsom

Image of Epsom Centre, by Tony Grant

Epsom Centre photo by Tony Grant

Epsom, at the foot of the north downs and famous for the Derby Racecourse, the forerunner of all Derbys around the world, gets a mention in Pride and Prejudice. When Wickham and Lydia elope from Brighton, where Wickham’s regiment is stationed, they of course have to pass through the county of Surrey to reach London. They change horses at Epsom. 

Lydia had disappeared with Wickham and Mr Bennet had turned into a man of action. Elizabeth enquired.

“She then proceeded to enquire into the measures which her father had intended to pursue, while in town, for the recovery of his daughter.”

“He meant,” I believe, “replied Jane, to go to Epsom, the place where they last changed horses, see the postilions and try if anything could be made out … His principal object must be to discover the number of the hackney coach which took them …”

Epsom, is a lovely market town and has an amazing central clock tower and wide thoroughfare for the market stalls set up there. There is also a well preserved 18th century Assembly Rooms called, “The Assembly Rooms,” which is now a Weatherspoon’s pub and restaurant. I have indeed imbibed a pint or two in there. There are many 18th century buildings still in the town.

Leatherhead

Image of leatherhead museum

Leatherhead Museum. Photo by Tony Grant

I must mention Leatherhead, very close to Great Bookham and Box Hill. It is a town Jane would have visited and probably knew well. It has become somewhat a cause celebre in the world of Jane Austen and generally causes arguments.  Highbury and Hartfield are fictitious places set within the real world of Surrey. There are those, however, who are  convinced that Leatherhead is indeed Highbury and Hartfield. They point out all the places that are in and around Leatherhead which they think fit Jane’s descriptions in Emma. It cannot be forgotten that Emma is a fiction, all said and done. Highbury and Hartfield are the quintessential 18th century English villages. Jane is concerned about the lives and relationships of people within a community.  That is what really counts.

There are many places in Surrey that Jane knew. I have included an overall map to show some of the key places I mention in this article and here are a few more places she mentions either in her novels or in her letters.

Guildford, Streatham, The Hogsback (A long hill outside of Guildford) Ripley, Painshill, Clapham, Battersea, Barnes and Egham.

To Cassandra Austen Thursday 20th May 1813

“We left Guildford at 20 minutes before 12- (I hope somebody cares for these minutes) & were at Esher in about 2 hours more.- I was very much pleased with the country in general-;- between Guildford and Ripley I thought it particularly pretty, also about Painshill & everywhere else; & from a Mr Spicer’s Grounds at Esher which we Walked into before dinner, the views were beautiful. I cannot say what we did not see but I should think there could not be a wood or a meadow or a palace or a remarkable spot in England that was not spread out us on one side or another.-“

Streatham is interesting, located  in South London at Tooting. It is where Dr Johnson lived for a while with Esther Thrale and her husband in their grand house next to the common and where many of the artistic glitterati of the 18th century met.

REFERENCES:

  • Austen J. Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon Penguin Classics (first published 1974) Revised edition published 2015
  • Austen J. Emma, Penguin Classics (Published in Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Austen J. Pride and Prejudice, (published by Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Austen J. Northanger Abbey, (published by Penguin Classics 1996) reissued 2003.
  • Le Faye D. Jane Austen’s Letters, (Third Edition) Oxford University Press 1995.

TONY’S OTHER BLOG POSTS: Below are some of the blog posts I have written connected with places I have mentioned in this article located in Surrey and South London where I live.

London Calling, Tony’s blog

Jane Austen in Vermont, Tony’s guest posts

Jane Austen’s World, Tony’s posts

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I’ve previously discussed the difficulties and dangers of travel in the Regency era in a number of posts on this blog, but the Lancaster Sands in Lanchashire presented a variety of difficulties for even the most knowledgeable traveler. My first introduction to this region was via a William Turner painting, Lancaster Sands, painted ca. 1826. I was struck by the laborers and villagers walking alongside a coach in shallow water. Why would a coach travel so slowly that pedestrians could keep pace?

Lancaster Sands, William Turner. Image @Wiki Paintings. Birminham Museum and Art Gallery

Thumbnail showing truer colors of Turner’s painting.

As it turns out, the crossing over the Lancaster Sands to reach Ulverston was fraught with danger, especially after heavy rains. In the early 19th century travelers crossed this watery passage in the Lake District at low tide, for this was the shorter (but more dangerous) route.

The sands forming the Bay of Morecambe, covered by the sea at high water, are crossed every day by travellers whose time or inclination leads them to choose this route rather than one more circuitous, and nearly thrice the distance, inland. – The Sands, John Roby

The crossing was extremely hazardous due to shifting sands and the timing of the departure had to be perfect:

“Coach services, scheduled to accommodate the changing tides, ran between hotels in Lancaster and Ulverston. In 1820, one traveller relates, he was rudely awakened in his Lancaster hotel at five in the morning when the coach driver burst into his bedroom shouting, “For God’s sake make haste! The tide is down … if you delay we shall all be drowned.” – The Pleasures and Treasures of Britain: A Discerning Traveller’s Companion (Google eBook)David Kemp Dundurn, Jan 12, 1992 – p. 307

Otley Map, Lancaster Sands, 1818. Image @Portsmouth University.

Today, as over 150 years ago,  the Sands Road requires a guide to help travelers negotiate the dangerous tide floods.

Before the railway was made, the old way of crossing the sands from Lancaster to Ulverstone must have been very striking, both from the character of the scenery around and a sense of danger, which cannot but have given something of the piquancy of adventure to the journey. The channels are constantly shifting, particularly after heavy rains, when they are perilously uncertain. For many centuries past, two guides have conducted travellers over them. Their duty is to observe the changes, and find fordable points. In all seasons and states of the weather this was their duty, and in times of storm and fog it must have been fraught with danger. These guides were anciently appointed by the Prior of Cartmel, and received synodal and Peter-pence for their maintenance. They are now paid from the revenues of the duchy. The office of guide has been so long held by a family of the name of Carter, that the country people have given that name to the office itself. A gentleman, crossing from Lancaster, once asked the guide if “Carters” were never lost on the sands. “I never knew any lost,” said the guide; “there’s one or two drowned now and then, but they’re generally found somewhere i’th bed when th’ tide goes out.” A certain ancient mariner, called Nuttall, who lives at Grange, on the Cartmel shore, told me that “people who get their living by ‘following the sands,’ hardly ever die in their beds. They end their days on the sands- and even their horses and carts are generally lost there. I have helped,” said he, “to pull horses and coaches, ay, and, guides too, out of the sands. The channel,” he continued, “is seldom two days together in one place. You may make a chart one day, and, before the ink is dry, it will have shifted.” I found, indeed, by inquiry, that those who have travelled the sands longest, are always most afraid of them ; and that these silent currents, which shimmer so beautifully in the sunshine, have been “the ribs of death” to thousands. – Over Sands to the Lakes by Edwin Waugh, 1860, Internet archive

Today, signs warn visitors about the passage, stating: “This route has natural hazards, seek local guidance.”  The following link shows modern images of the route (Lake Guide Sands Road), which is still crossed today with experienced guides.  A 19th century visitor related that:

It is safest to cross at spring-tides; the water then is more completely drained out, and the force of the tide sweeps the bottom clean from mud and sediment. – The Sands, John Roby

Many who took this route in days of yore, such as William Wordsworth, found the trip to be so memorable that it lived in their memory for a long time. Turner created a number of striking images of the dangerous crossing. In all of them, the pedestrians and riders stayed close to the coach as guides gauged how and where the sands had shifted with the last tides or storms. Brogs, or broken branches of furze, left by previous guides visually led the way. You can see a few of them placed in the lower right corner of Turner’s painting below.

In this dramatic painting, Turner shows the Lancaster coach struggling across the sands and being overtaken by the incoming tide in a rainstorm. (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). One can imagine the panic of the passengers upon seeing the incoming water, and the struggles of the horses as they pulled their heavy loads along the soft sands.

Painter David Cox also painted the Lancaster Sands crossing. His images are less romantic than Turner’s, but dramatic nevertheless:  Lancaster Sands by David Cox, 1835. The route through the sands were ever-changing. The guides tested the way daily, looking for shifts in the channels and for quick sand, but even the most experienced could not prevent the drowning of carriages and coaches and the deaths of people who were caught by the incoming tides or who were trapped in quagmires. Graves in local cemeteries are testament to the many lives that were lost during these crossings.

David Cox, Sketch for Crossing Lancaster Sands. Image @Tate Britain

By the mid-19th century, the railroads provided a safer and faster route. Today, the crossing over the sands is a voluntary one and taken for the experience or thrill, not out of necessity.

Image of a carriage traversing the Sands in high tides from Waugh’s book.

More on the topic:

This site shows modern images of the Lancaster Sands: Sands Road at Low Water

Old Cumbria Gazzeteer: Lancaster Sands Road 

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Before Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, and mother moved into Chawton Cottage, they lived in a “commodious oldfashioned house in a corner of Castle Square” in Southampton. In his Memoir of his aunt, James Edward Austen-Leigh writes this charming, although bittersweet description:

John Petty, 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne

At that time Castle Square was occupied by a fantastic edifice, too large for the space in which it stood, though too small to accord well with its castellated style, erected by the second Marquis of Lansdowne, half-brother to the well-known statesman, who succeeded him in the title. The Marchioness had a light phaeton, drawn by six, and sometimes by eight little ponies, each pair decreasing in size, and becoming lighter in colour, through all the grades of dark brown, light brown, bay, and chestnut, as it was placed farther away from the carriage. The two leading pairs were managed by two boyish postilions, the two pairs nearest to the carriage were driven in hand. It was a delight to me to look down from the window and see this fairy equipage put together; for the premises of this castle were so contracted that the whole process went on in the little space that remained of the open square. Like other fairy works, however, it all proved evanescent. Not only carriage and ponies, but castle itself, soon vanished away, ‘like the baseless fabric of a vision’. On the death of the Marquis in 1809, the castle was pulled down. Few probably remember its existence; and anyone who might visit the place now would wonder how it ever could have stood there. – A Memoir of Jane Austen

George IV’s spider phaeton (1790) Click on image to view a larger version.

Postillion by Thomas Rowlandson (18th century – 19th century)

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli has frequently contributed his comments on this blog. Little did I know that he was an author! He has graciously sent in his thoughts about Bath, the city in which he has set his historical crime novel. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Beau Nash turned the city of Bath into the most fashionable resort in 18th-century England. In his role as Master of Ceremonies he organised the premier social events in the city and chose who should, and should not be invited. He established a select list of people who he defined as the cream of Society, and more importantly he changed the social conventions of the city.

Richard Beau Nash

Nash broke down the old order dominated by the nobility and gentry, and promoted the nouveaux- riches. Whereas in other cities the growing number of wealthy industrialists and tradespeople were still looked down on because of their background, in Bath, Nash welcomed them as elite members of society.

Bath in the 18th century at the time of Beau Nash

For years the city thrived on the wealth of visitors who stayed for the Season. The affluent tourists rented houses and apartments and all the trappings that went with them; crockery and cutlery, silver-ware and ornaments, horses and carriages, servants and attendants. Prominent architects designed fine buildings and the city grew. Milsom Street became one of the most prestigious shopping areas in the country.

Milsom Street and Bond Street with Portraits of Bath Swells.

By 1801, when Jane Austen moved to Bath, the city was the 9th largest in England, with a population of 33,000. Yet the city’s fortunes had already begun to decline. Bath had changed in character and atmosphere. It was becoming less fashionable and the wealthy were visiting less often, and their stays were becoming shorter.

Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the Comforts of Bath. The classes noticeably mingled as they awaited drinking the waters in the Pump Room. (Notice the patient in the wheel chair on the left and the sedan chair next to him, which was carried inside the room.) Nash’s statue is in the niche at the top right. You can still see it today.

Built in a bowl of seven hills, Bath’s ever-growing population was increasingly crowded into a relatively small area. It’s little wonder that when Jane Austen moved to the city, she wrote to her sister, Cassandra saying, “The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; … the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion.”

Coal soot darkened the creamy colored stone of the buildings.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that it seemed, “all smoke” when every household depended on coal fires for warmth, that it was “all confusion” when its roads were congested with carts and carriages. And in Georgian cities, once you set foot on the streets there was no escaping the poor drainage and lack of decent sanitation and sewerage systems. As Austen said in a letter to her sister, “We stopped in Paragon (a prestigious address where her wealthy uncle lived) as we came along, but it was too wet and dirty for us to get out.”

The Paragon, Bath.

By the time Persuasion was published in 1817, the larger part of Bath’s population was working class. Industry was thriving in the city, supplying the many fine shops in Milsom Street and drawing people from the countryside to fill the jobs created. Yet the people who worked in the factories and sweat-shops, the costermongers and shop-assistants, the building labourers and hotel staff were, for the most part, poorly paid.

Advertisement for B. Lautier Goldsmith Shop in Bath, 1848

The only housing they could afford was overcrowded and poorly maintained, and the slum areas around Avon Street were increasing in size, as quickly as they were deteriorating in quality and appearance. By 1850, the rookery of hovels and cheap boarding-houses in and around Avon Street were home to almost a quarter of the Bath’s population.

Bath had grown considerably by the 1850’s, the date of this illustration.

My novel, Avon Street is set in Bath in 1850. But Bath isn’t just a setting. It is a character in its own right. In writing Avon Street, I have tried to take the reader beyond the Georgian facades, and reveal a city, where wealth and elegance were never far from poverty and squalor. Bath was a city, where things were often not as they seemed, where people as Austen said, could “be important at comparatively little cost.” In short it is the ideal setting for a story of confidence tricksters and crime, intrigue and betrayal. A city where enemies can seem all-powerful, and friends are sometimes found where least expected.

Image of Avon Street.

In Persuasion Anne Elliot visits a friend in Westgate Buildings despite Sir Walter’s warning of its unsuitableness – “Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations are inviting to you.” (Click here to see an image of Westgate Buildings in 1900.) It seemed only fitting that the first chapter of my book be set in the same location, on the borders of the Avon Street area.

Pickwick Mews, Avon Street, in 1923. Image @The Victoria Art Gallery

More about Avon Street and Paul Emanuelli: Why Avon Street?

Avon Street: Purchase information

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: The History Press Ltd (1 Feb 2012)

Language English

ISBN-10: 0752465546

ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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Back in Jane Austen’s day travel was so difficult and laborious over poorly constructed roads that the majority of the people who lived in that century traveled no farther than 14 miles from where they lived. Most walked, and even so they had to contend with muddy roads that were almost impassible after heavy rains or breathe in choking dust during times of drought. (In cities, dusty streets would be watered down by merchants early in the morning.)

Diana Sperling, a party walking to dinner along muddy roads.

Travel at night was dangerous. Without a widespread means of lighting roads or an organized police force, night travelers were at the mercy of highwaymen. In cities, link boys were paid a half pence to carry a light in front of pedestrians, or for those on horseback and in carriages.

Georgian cast iron light fixtures, Landsdowne Crescent in Bath. Note the cones, which extinguished the light.

Lanterns hung in front of city doors or were carried. In the country, torches hung from trees lining a lane that led up to a house. Balls and parties were planned during the full moon, although a rainy or cloudy night would spoil these well-laid plans.

A link boy lights the way in the city, 1827.

The situation would not change until the Industrial Revolution brought about such life altering inventions as gas lights, macadam roads (whose hard surface facilitated smoother travel), the steamboat, and rail travel.

The perils of overcrowding, 1812

The following descriptions of poor road conditions from Old Country Life, a book published in 1892, describes a time just after Jane Austen’s death, but one that her longer lived siblings would have known. While people’s memories of distant events are often faulty, the emotions they felt tend to stay with them. Here then are some eye witness accounts retold many decades later:

What a time people took formerly in travelling over old roads! There is a house just two miles distant from mine, by the new unmapped road. Before 1837, when that road was made, it was reached in so circuitous a manner, and by such bad lanes, and across an unbridged river, that my grandfather and his family when they dined with our neighbours, two miles off, always spent the night at their house.

Negotiating a muddy road. Image @Roads in the 18th Century

In 1762, a rich gentleman, who had lived in a house of business in Lisbon, and had made his fortune, returned to England, and resolved to revisit his paternal home in Norfolk. His wish was further stimulated by the circumstance that his sister and sole surviving relative dwelt beside one of the great broads, where he thought he might combine some shooting with the pleasure of renewing his friendships of childhood. From London to Norwich his way was tolerably smooth and prosperous, and by the aid of a mail coach he performed the journey in three days. But now commenced his difficulties. Between the capital and his sister’s dwelling lay twenty miles of country roads. He ordered a coach and six, and set forth on his fraternal quest. The six hired horses, although of strong Flanders breed, were soon engulfed in a black miry pool, his coach followed, and the merchant was dragged out of the window by two cowherds, and mounted on one of the wheelers; he was brought back to Norwich, and nothing could ever induce him to resume the search for his sister, and to revisit his ancestral home.

Pack horses. Image @The Rolle Canal Company

Roads were in such a poor condition that transportation over rivers and canals was preferred. If waterways were not nearby, pack horses and carrier wagons carried heavy and fragile items into areas were roads were near to impassible. Carrier wagons were sturdy wagons pulled by oxen and covered with canvas cloth.

Items had to be safely packed before they could be transported. Paper was expensive and cardboard boxes had yet to be invented. Goods were carried in cloth sacks, metal canisters, leather baskets, wood barrels, sturdy trunks, or wooden crates. Additional containers were made of cloth, woven straw, crockery, glass, and tin.

18th century coopers making barrels. Image@Instructional Resources Corporation.

The safe preservation of foods in metal containers was finally realized in France in the early 1800s. In 1809, General Napoleon Bonaparte offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could preserve food for his army. Nicholas Appert, a Parisian chef and confectioner, found that food sealed in tin containers and sterilized by boiling could be preserved for long periods. A year later (1810), Peter Durand of Britain  received a patent for tinplate after devising the sealed cylindrical can. – A brief history of packaging

Fragile items like glass and china received extra protection and were wrapped in cloth or straw. Considering the poor road conditions,  it is a wonder that any of these items survived their long journeys intact. View an image and explanation of a stage wagon in this link.

Reliable forms of old-fashioned transportation still exist in this world. Image@Washington Post

Below is a description of a carrier and his wagon.  (click here to see examples):

It is a marvel to us how the old china and glass travelled in those days; but the packer was a man of infinite care and skill in the management of fragile wares.

Does the reader remember the time when all such goods were brought by carriers? How often they got broken if intrusted to the stage-coaches, how rarely if they came by the carrier.  The carrier’s waggon was securely packed, and time was of no object to the driver, he went very slowly and very carefully over bad ground. – Old Country Life, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1892

Breakdown of the Christmas stage, a Victorian illustration. Note that oxen are strapped to an empty cart, ready to take on passengers, who are still 10 miles from their destination.

As noted before, people often spent the night when they arrived as guests for dinner. Once a person made the journey to visit relatives, they tended to stay for weeks, even months. Elizabeth Bennet’s visit with Charlotte was of several weeks duration; Cassandra Austen frequently visited her brother Edward for weeks at a time, which is when Jane would write to her.

City streets were crowded and narrow. Thomas Rowlandson. The Miseries of London. 1807. Image @Lewis Walpole Library

“It is of some importance,” said Sydney Smith, “at what period a man is born. A young man alive at this period hardly knows to what improvements of human life he has been introduced; and I would bring before his notice the changes that have taken place in England since I began to breathe the breath of life—a period of seventy years. I have been nine hours sailing from Dover to Calais before the invention of steam. It took me nine hours to go from Taunton to Bath before the invention of railroads. In going from Taunton to Bath I suffered between ten thousand and twelve thousand severe contusions before stone-breaking MacAdam was born. I paid fifteen pounds in a single year for repair of carriage springs on the pavement of London, and I now glide without noise or fracture on wooden pavement. I can walk without molestation from one end of London to another; or, if tired, get into a cheap and active cab, instead of those cottages on wheels which the hackney coaches were at the beginning of my life. I forgot to add, that as the basket of the stagecoaches in which luggage was then carried had no springs, your clothes were rubbed all to pieces; and that even in the best society, one-third of the gentlemen were always drunk. I am now ashamed that I was not formerly more discontented, and am utterly surprised that all these changes and inventions did not occur two centuries ago.” – Old Country Life, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1892, p. 216

Paving a macadam road in the U.S., 1823

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