By Christine O’Malley, Time Traveler with Fitzwilliam Darcy
Last week, I posted my first impressions of Fitzwilliam Darcy on Mary Simonsen’s blog in connection with the release of the time-travel novel, Another Place in Time. Today, I am joining Maria Grace to talk about what it was like to visit London in 1812. Here’s an excerpt from Mary’s book:
Soon after the carriage exited Manchester Square, they plunged into the chaos that was London, the capital of the commercial world. The cacophony was extraordinary. Hackney drivers shouted, sellers advertised their wares, pamphleteers screamed scandalous headlines, and horses neighed. It was like New York City at rush hour, except with horses, dogs, cats, and the occasional pig thrown in for interest.
Prior to journeying to London in 1812 with Fitzwilliam Darcy, I had visited modern London three times. I consider it to be the most vibrant city in the world—then and now. In 1812, London was the undisputed capital of the commercial world. Its main highway, the River Thames, was chock-a-block full of ships of every shape and size, and those ships carried every imaginable commodity. For the well-heeled of London, the world came to their doors with coffee, tea, spices, muslin, and so much more.
But London paid a price for its success. The only way to get around Town was by horse. As a result, its streets were clogged with even worse traffic than there is today, and you crossed the street at your peril. The most efficient way to get around was to go by river, but if you chose that route, you had best bring a bouquet of posies or a handkerchief dipped in vinegar as the Thames served as London’s sewer, serving more than one million people. Because the city was powered by coal, the beautiful dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral that Londoners see today was covered with soot as was Westminster Abbey and every other building (thus the reason for black umbrellas).
My first stop on my tour of London with Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy was Lackington’s, also known as the Temple of the Muses, a bookstore that would be the envy of any modern urban store. After returning to the carriage, Mr. Darcy ordered the driver to take us down the Strand where we were able to catch glimpses of the river traffic, St. Mary le Strand, Somerset House, and Northumberland House (now gone). Nearby Fleet Street served as headquarters to a vibrant press, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a pub still in existence, was serving pub grub and ale.
Another day, while Mr. Darcy rode with Mr. Bingley in Rotten Row, Georgiana and I paid a visit to Westminster Abbey, but the familiar narthex (vestibule) was not built until the mid 20th Century. We visited the south transept and the grave of Chaucer. Because later poets requested that they be buried near the first poet to write in the vernacular, the transept would come to be known as Poet’s Corner.
Georgiana and I also visited Carlton House. Fitzwilliam had been invited to join us, but because he disapproved of the Prince Regent’s lifestyle, he declined, preferring to spend his afternoon at Brooks’s, one of London’s many men’s clubs.
The White Tower (aka Tower of London) stood high above the city, but public executions at Tyburn (now the site of the Marble Arch) had ceased to provide entertainment for the public. Although Trafalgar Square had yet to be developed, Charles I was already sitting on his horse in front of what would become, two decades later, the National Gallery. After bumping along in a carriage, dodging hundreds of other conveyances, and while stepping gingerly whenever we exited the carriage, we returned to the Darcy home on Manchester Square.
While Georgiana enjoyed London during the Season and visiting the shops, Darcy loved London for its history, architecture, and energy. During his time in Baltimore, when he saw photographs of modern London, he nodded his head in approval. Although the man’s sensibilities were firmly rooted in the early 19th Century, he admired the engineering required to build the Gherkin, the efficiency of the Underground, and the crowds walking the streets listening to iTunes and talking on their smart phones because Mr. Darcy loves gadgets! Unfortunately for Mr. Darcy, cell phone reception in 1812 is terrible!
Mr. Darcy will be interviewed by Mary on Jakki Leatherberry’s blog, Leatherbound Reviews, (insert link) on February 18th.