Alexia Reed has been on a major reading jag lately. She’s also been reading a lot of historicals. Since she knows this is what I write and mostly read, she asked,
“Something I’ve noticed lately, a lot of historicals have the same ‘places’. Like White’s club. Hyde Park. Why is that?”
I’d also noticed this over the years of reading historical romances and can only say that they were social hot spots during the Regency Period (1811-1820) and similar to how an author of a contemporary novel set in a particular city names famous landmarks to establish the setting and provide local color. Basically, regardless of genre, these well-known landmarks are a type of shorthand between the author and reader.
Those who’ve read a few Regencies will be familiar with the ton‘s visits to Almack’s, White’s, Tattersalls, Vauxhall Gardens with their fireworks, the Drury Lane Theatre and, of course, shopping on Bond Street calls to mind modern day excursions to Rodeo Drive in L.A. or 5th Avenue in N.Y.C. Although, I like it much better when the landmarks serve the plot as more than just cardboard cut-outs propped up in the background scenery. What was so special about these places that the cream of society, the haute ton, couldn’t find elsewhere? What does it say about the characters that frequent these landmarks?
So, let’s look at a few of the top spots to see and be seen around Regency London.
Regency London Landmarks
- Hyde Park, Rotten Row, The Serpentine, The Fashionable Hour — Giant expanse of parkland with a bridle path to show off equestrian skills. A lake to take the kiddies, or fall into should need arise to embarrass a hero or heroine, and a set time for everyone to gather and gawk at each other.
- Almack’s Assembly Rooms – a very private social club where vouchers for entry were carefully guarded by the Patronesses. No alcohol was served and you had to get permission to waltz from the Patronesses as well. Nouveau riche need not apply.
- White’s, Boodle’s & Brooks’s Gentlemen’s Clubs — You can tell a lot about a hero’s politics just by the club(s) he belongs to — White’s (Tory) and Brooks’s (Whig).
- Astley’s Amphitheatre — Think of it like a trip to the circus.
- Vauxhall Gardens – Pleasure gardens, but seems more like an amusement park with their frequent fireworks displays. Also lots of dark paths for heroines to be compromised or at least tested.
- Covent Garden, Royal Opera House Theatre and Drury Lane Theatre – Historically known as “the garden of the Abbot and Convent of Westminster”, during the 18th and early 19th centuries, Convent Garden area was considered something of a red-light district attracting many notable prostitutes. The area also has a long history of retail and entertainment. Many a famous actor of the day tread the boards of these two theaters. Also many a famous actress caught the eye of her rich protector.
- Tattersall’s — The premier place to bid upon horseflesh.
- Bond Street and The Western Exchange — where any well-dressed hero or heroine will shop. If they have the money or just want to keep up the appearance of having money.
To explore further, the Wikipedia entry covers a number of places of interest and importance during the British Regency.
If you’re lucky enough to travel to London, you might want to visit some of these historic places. However, keep in mind while many places still exist, others have been replaced by more modern buildings. Some of the ones still standing include:
- St. George’s in Hanover Square: The Anglican Church still holds services where all the best high-society weddings were once held.
- Rotten Row in Hyde Park: Along with neighboring Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park remains one of London’s largest parks where visitors may still ride horses along what was once London’s most fashionable bridle path.
- Hatchards: Established in 1797, the bookstore on Piccadilly hosts signings by high-profile writers.
- Theatre Royal on Drury Lane: This four-tiered theater has seen numerous renovations but remains mostly unchanged since 1812, its last major rebuild.
- Bond Street: Since the 18th century, Bond Street has remained London’s fashionable shopping district. From Piccadilly to Oxford Street, one can find many high-end shops such as Tiffany & Company, Cartier, and Gucci.
- Seven Dials: During the Regency era, this West End neighborhood near Covent Garden was rough and impoverished. It surrounds a junction of seven streets, where a pillar featuring six sundials stands in the center.
- White’s and Brook’s: The famous gentlemen’s clubs continue to operate as private fraternities on James Street. And women still aren’t permitted as members.
More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below. Next week’s post will cover frequently seen locations outside of London, like Bath, Brighton, and the like.