Following Olympia's Great Escape Route

My historical romances feature quite a few duke heroes, all rich, young, and good-looking. This was not the reality in early 19th century Great Britain and it isn’t the reality today. What is real though, is their belonging to the highest rank of the peerage, and their possessing, in the time of our stories, power, privilege, and wealth we can scarcely imagine. The duke is the mightiest of the noblemen—but in the idealized world of romance fiction, he meets his match in the strong heroine, who may have nothing but her brains to depend on.

So, I’m OK with the jillion fictional dukes.

The clothes, however, need to be correct (see my post on 1830s clothing). The streets need to be correct. And the houses. And other stuff. This is to make the story feel real. The characters are make-believe, but I place them in a world as close to historical reality as I can make it. Which isn’t to say I don’t take artistic liberties from time to time, or avoid many of the less appealing aspects of the time. It’s a historical romance, not a biography or history.

All the same, if the opportunity arises, I check my work, even after the book’s been published. Because of my brain. This happened with the Venice I described in Your Scandalous Ways. Though I traveled there well after the book was released, I visited the story’s various locations, to make sure I’d imagined correctly. I had. But that was Venice.

If Lord Byron came back from the dead and visited, he’d recognize the place. But London? He’d feel the way I did when I visited Tirana, Albania, after several decades: Where am I? More to the point, Where did all these buildings and cars and things come from? Help! What is this place?

As you’d expect, then, when I was in London—after A Duke in Shining Armor had gone into production and it was too late to change anything—I had to make sure I’d got things right. Thus, Olympia and Ripley’s great escape from her uncle’s house in Kensington? That run down Horton Street to the cab stand? Yes, I followed their route, to make sure it made sense and the timing worked.

The house she ran from, Newland House, was based on Campden House. It’s long gone (more about that on another post). But I knew approximately where it had stood—or sprawled, rather, over a large property. And, this being London (Kensington, to be precise), I found equivalents of the various landmarks I’d pictured. There was, as described, a tall wall around a large property. There was, as described, a locked gate in the wall. And I found these features in the general area where the garden of the house would have been.

And there was Horton Street. As the map shows, Kensington was much more rural in 1833. A great many more buildings line Horton Street now than in the time of my story. But the street, unlike some others, remains, as do other landmarks. And lo and behold, when we reached the Kensington High Street, we came upon a cab stand, about where there had been one at the time of my story. Maybe exactly where it had been, because that is one of the marvelous things about London: If you look, you find the past, maybe where you least expect it. And some things don’t change all that much.

Image of Campden House courtesy Kensington Central Library, with special thanks to Dave Walker and Isabel Hernandez for their patience and help.

Queen Victoria's Stormy Wedding Day as Inspiration

Sometimes inspiration comes from weather.

Henry Thomas Alken, "Some Do and Some Don't: It is All a Notion:" Getting Home (between 1820 and 1821), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

On 10 February 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The rotten weather on the previous day stuck in my mind. I pictured a soaking wet, deeply angry (and hurt) nobleman, banging on the door of a house. And so began “The Jilting of Lord Rothwick,” one of two short stories in my Royally Ever After collection. Among other things, the contemporary descriptions taught me that royal wedding frenzy, and the media’s eagerness to report all minutiae relating thereto, is by no means a modern development.

From The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 35, 1840 (the magazine’s detailed account of the wedding begins here on page 113):

“The weather during the preceding night was more boisterous than any we have experienced during the winter. It ‘blew great guns’ from ten o’clock until sunrise when—

The dawn was overcast, the morning lower’d,

And heavily in clouds brought on the day,

The great, th’important day,

on which were to be celebrated the nuptials of our maiden Sovereign and Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg.

It continued to rain almost without intermission until noon, when the weather partially cleared up and continued fine, but threatening during the remainder of the day.”all

Yes, multitudes turned out for the big day.

“All ranks of the people in the metropolis, and for many miles around, began to rise before the appearance of the dawn, some to prepare to take their stations in the progress of the approaching great ceremony ... Notwithstanding the discouraging weather, the streets were crowded at an early hour with thousands, coming from every point of the compass, and making the best of their way, with emulous and unceremonious haste, to St. James's Park, as one common centre. ... About ten o'clock St. James's Park was completely filled with a vast, miscellaneous, curious multitude, not a tithe of whom, unfortunately, could see even the carriage of the Queen when it did at length pass.”

As the above fashion plates make clear, Queen Victoria was not, as many believe, the first bride to wear a white wedding dress. But she was apparently the first royal to wear white, like other brides, instead of silver, and she left off the ceremonial robes befitting a monarch. Still, she did start a fashion for BIG royal weddings. Previously, these had been relatively private affairs. But then, hers was a big deal—the first wedding of a reigning queen since Queen Mary in 1554.

The wedding cake was a big deal, too. This page offers closeups of the details, including the curious Roman attire described below.

“If taste of design only equal what appears to be intended for the actual dimensions, it will beat any bride-cake ever seen.”

5. THE ROYAL WEDDING CAKE. —A select few have been gratified with a sight of the royal wedding cake at the apartments of the confectionary in St. James's palace, but it is described as consisting of the most exquisite compounds of all the rich things with which the most expensive cakes can be composed, mingled and mixed together into delightful harmony by the most elaborate science of the confectioner. This royal cake weighs nearly 300 lb. weight. It is three yards in circumference, and about fourteen inches in depth or thickness. It is covered with sugar of the purest white; on the top is seen the figure of Britannia in the act of blessing the illustrious bride and bridegroom, who are dressed somewhat incongruously in the costume of ancient Rome. These figures are not quite a foot in height; at the feet of his serene highness is the effigy of a dog, said to denote fidelity; and at the feet of the queen is a pair of turtle doves, denoting the felicities of the marriage state. A cupid is writing in a volume expanded on his knees the date of the day of the marriage, and various other cupids are sporting and enjoying themselves as such interesting little individuals generally do. These little figures are well modelled. On the top of the cake are numerous bouquets of white flowers tied with true lovers' knots of white satin riband, intended for presents to the guests at the nuptial breakfast. This elegant emblem of the felicities of marriage will be placed on the breakfast table of the queen at Buckingham palace at the breakfast which is to succeed the ceremonies in the chapel royal.”—Annual Register 1840 (its description of the wedding begins on the following page).

Illustrations: Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Queen Victoria, in her wedding dress and veil from 1840, painted in 1847 as an anniversary gift for her husband, Prince Albert. Original painting owned by the Royal Collection. Source of photograph unknown.

The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840, painted by George Hayter 1840-1842. Royal Collection RCIN 407165, via Wikipedia.

Wedding invitation, from tiaras and trianon. And in case you were wondering: The photographs posted on the tiaras and trianon page were not taken at the wedding, but at a re-creation some years later.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it. Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Endings and Revivals in the Blog Department

Harry Willson Watrous, Just a Couple of Girls circa 1915,

As many of you are now aware, Susan Holloway Scott and I have decided to write “The End” on the Two Nerdy History Girls blog. The blog brought us many delights and benefits. Among other things, we got to meet virtually and in person a great many more history lovers than we ever dreamt was possible, made contact with historians and historical bloggers worldwide—many of whom welcomed us into their libraries, museums, and historic houses—and, of course, discovered tidbits we put to work in our books. But the blog also took time, and as the years passed, the demands of our main job—our novels—were increasing. Clearly, something had to give, if we wanted to give proper attention to our writing careers.

It feels good to get the time back, yet it’s sad, too, to say goodbye to a project that was so much fun for both of us, and whose support from readers was beyond what we’d ever imagined.

The good news is, you will get to see interesting and amusing, (I hope) historical nerdiness here, direct from my website, and more posts in general, though never enough to flood your inbox. As one who spends far too much time hitting the email Delete button, I am sensitive to this.

But while you may get Loretta Chase blog posts a little more often than before, I shall aim to offer more amusement as well as more substance. Along with new stuff, you can expect some enhanced editions of blogs from the 2NHG archives. I’ve done this occasionally in the past, and it gives me a chance to offer more pictures, among other things.

But mainly, one hopes, saying Goodbye to 2NHG means saying Hello to shorter times between my books.

Me & William Smith, the man whose map changed the world. His work was one of the inspirations for Miss Wonderful.

Oh, and one more thing: Please consider this a fresh opportunity to ask some of those questions that arise when you’re reading my books. Like, What’s a ticket porter? How could an English couple get married in somebody’s house instead of in church? What on earth is a pelerine and why would anybody want to wear one? Why the lurcher? If your enquiring mind wants to know, please use the email form and send me your question.

Hackney Cabs & Hackney Coaches

In A Duke in Shining Armor, a character’s close encounter (offstage) with a hackney cab triggers events. At other times, the characters travel, for reasons of anonymity, in hackney coaches. Though some authors use the terms interchangeably, these are two different vehicles.

HACKNEY CABRIOLET
The photograph of a model at the London Transport Museum offers a 3D view of the two-wheeled, one horse single-passenger cab. It was also known as a coffin cab, for two reasons: (1) the vehicle looked like a coffin and (2) it was dangerous.

The model makes it easier to see the apron that protected passengers from kicked-up dust and stormy weather. Henry Charles Moore's Omnibuses and Cabs tells us, “The fore part of the hood could be lowered as required, and there was a curtain which could be drawn across to shield the rider from wind and rain.” The curtain is hard to see—and I didn’t see it until recently, when I lightened the photo, but one can just about make it out, tucked away inside. The Cruikshank illustration below emphasizes the coffin aspect.

A new and improved version, introduced in 1823, carried two passengers. In my 1830s-set books, I use the later version.

Images, left to right: Cruikshank's illustration for Sketches by Boz; illustration from Omnibuses and Cabs; detail from James Pollard, Hatchetts, the White Horse Cellars, Piccadilly, via Wikipedia.

HACKNEY COACH
First, let’s distinguish hackney coaches, which took individuals to specific destinations, mainly in London, from the stage coaches traveling the King’s highways according to preset routes and schedules. Hackneys were like taxis. Stagecoaches were like long-distance buses. In England they’re still called coaches. Here’s Charles Dickens’s description of a hackney coach, from Sketches by Boz.*

"There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at which we are writing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have alluded - a great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow colour (like a bilious brunette), with very small glasses, but very large frames; the panels are ornamented with a faded coat of arms,** in shape something like a dissected bat, the axletree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green. The box is partially covered by an old great-coat, with a multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes; and the straw, with which the canvas cushion is stuffed, is sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay, which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. The horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse, are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally wincing, and rattling the harness; and now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate the coachman. The coachman himself is in the watering-house; and the waterman,*** with his hands forced into his pockets as far as they can possibly go, is dancing the 'double shuffle,' in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm."

This chapter of Omnibuses and Cabs: Their Origin and History tells the whole story, with excerpts from Sketches by Boz.

 *First published November 1835, in Bell’s Life in London.
**many of the coaches were vehicles previously owned by aristocrats.
***HACKNEY COACH WATERMAN
London had many, many hackney coach stands during the early 19th century.  This is where you’d find the hackney coach waterman.

Hackney coaches appear upon the stand for hire, at seven o’clock in the morning in summer, and at eight in winter: twelve hundred are allowed to be kept in London and its vicinity, and each is numbered.  The prices of fare are regulated; and no coachman can refuse to carry passengers for any distance short of ten miles, however stormy the weather, or however the horses may be fatigued.  A certain number are reserved to relieve those that have been employed during the day, which are called night coaches, and they attend at their stands till sun-rise.  Public houses are kept open during the night for the accommodation of the coachmen.  The figure represented upon this plate is employed as waterman to the stand, who is licensed, and wears a badge with his number engraved thereon: his business is to feed and water the horses, and to open the door for the passengers, that the driver may remain upon his box: he also has charge of the coaches during the time that the coachmen take their meals.
The office for licensing hackney coaches was erected in the year 1696, under the direction of commissioners; they have a code of regulations, which subjects the drivers to penalties for extortion, carelessness, rude behaviour, &c. by which the public is much benefitted; as the mode of redress is rendered simple and expeditious.

Pyne’s British Costume (originally published 1805 as The Costume of Great Britain).

If you haven't yet had enough of the topic, this section of Leigh’s New Picture of London for 1834 gives a concise overview of London transport in the time of my stories.

What is a post chaise?

Detail from Pollard, The Mail Changing Horses at “The Falcon” at Walthamstowe, image from The Autobiography of a Stage Coachman, courtesy Archive.org

In A Duke in Shining Armor, my characters travel, at one point, in a post chaise.

At the Jane Austen Society of North America, you can read Ed Ratcliffe’s carefully researched and detailed paper on transport in the early 1800s. If you scroll down about a third of the way you’ll come to the post chaise part. On her website, Candice Hern covers the topic rather more briefly.

And/or you can read my, also brief, version:

Thomas Rowlandson, An English Postilion, ca 1785, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A post chaise was usually a hired vehicle, rather like a long-distance taxi-cab. They were not driven by a coachmen but by postilions or postboys (they were “boys” no matter how old they were), who rode the “near” or left side horse. The vehicles tended to be small, holding two passengers in tight quarters on a single seat. This intimacy is one reason I like to have my hero and heroine travel by post chaise.

Thomas Rowlandson, The Runaway Coach, ca 1791, courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Another reason is speed. If you traveled in your own vehicle, with your own horses, you’d need to stop to water/feed and rest the horses at frequent intervals, say every six to twenty miles, depending on how slowly you travel, and road condition, e.g., level, uphill, well or poorly maintained. The rest period could take hours.

Instead, with a post chaise, at similar intervals, determined by road conditions, you stopped at a posting inn and changed for fresh horses. This change took very little time, and off you’d go again. The posting inns maintained a good supply of horses. Also, for a long journey, there would be postilions or postboys available to take over for your tired driver. About every other stop, you’d change vehicles, too, so that the owners of the operation could keep track of their property.

The photograph is from my 2009 visit to Colonial Williamsburg. Coachman Susan Billeter Cochrane stands with the horse saddled for her to ride postilion. Note that she wears a leather guard over her left boot to protect it from close contact with the other horse.