Monday, May 25, 2009

Shopping in the Regency Period

I do wish there was a book about shopping--the retail trade--during the Regency, and in particular, shopping in London in the early 1800s. It would make research so much easier. As far as I can find, there is no definitive work. If you have come across one, please let me know. I'm researching for my 2010 release, The Harmless Deception. The heroine is a lady milliner and I want to have a feel for retailing in the Regency. Some things I have discovered:

'The Picture of London', a guidebook published in 1803, has the following widely cited quote. I think it's worth repeating:
"…two sets of streets running nearly parallel, almost from the Eastern extremity of the town to the Western, forming (with the exception of a very few houses) a line of shops. One. lying to the South, nearer the river, extends from Mile End to Parliament Street, including Whitechapel, Leadenhall Street, Cornhill, Cheapside, St. Paul's Churchyard, Ludgate Street, Fleet Street, the Strand and Charing Cross. The other, to the North, reaches from Shoreditch Church almost to the end of Oxford Street, including Shoreditch, Bishopsgate Street, Threadneedle Street, Cheapside, Newgate Street, Snow-hill, Holborn, Broad Street, St. Giles and Oxford Street. The Southern line, which is the most splendid, is more than three miles in length, and the other about four miles,…"

A great deal of shopping, indeed, and we know so little about it all. The impression I have gained is that the retail trade up until about 1815 was dominated by the independent merchant. They set up shop in the best premises available to their pocketbook and sold their goods. A fascinating exhibit from 2001 at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, still has its catalogue online. This is the 'John Johnson Collection Exhibition 2001 A Nation of Shopkeepers - Trade Ephemera from 1654 to the 1860'. There are literally hundreds of trade cards on-line for viewing. They tell us more about retailing during those 200 years than anything else I have found.

The best author I have found specializing in shopping history is Alison Adburgham. Her book 'Shopping in Style' is very useful, though it emphasizes the more accessible Victorian period. She also has 'Shops and Shopping, 1800-1914', which has a valuable chapter titled 'Shopping During the Napoleonic Wars'.

Regency novels lean heavily on the first department store in London, Harding, Howell & Co, for their characters' shopping needs. I did so myself in The Rake's Reflection, only I called it by the name of its location--Schomberg House in Pall Mall. The bazaars also figure large in Regency fiction--the Western Exchange, Soho Bazaar and the Pantheon Bazaar--but it is difficult to pin down their operating dates, so it can be wiser to create a fictional bazaar rather than risk an error. I have seen the Burlington Arcade has been wrongly used; it was late in opening, 1819. In fact, Adburgham gives the date of the Pantheon's re-creation as a bazaar as 1834. I used a nameless, unfashionable, bazaar for a scene in The Beggarmaid, and enjoyed creating it.

Individual well-known shops are fascinating to research and invaluable settings for writers. I'm thinking of the plumassier Botobol, Ackermann's for art, the perfumery of Floris, Hatchard's for books, and Bedford House and Grafton House which Jane Austen patronized. In fact, Jane's letters are a treasure trove of shopping details.

So the study continues. But as shopping and research are both among my favourite things to do, I don't mind a bit!

Til next time,


Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Sublime Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer started it all for me. In high school, I found one of her books in the library, and I was hooked. For the next ten years I searched out every Georgette Heyer book I could find; it became an obsession. I had to own every title.

I have them all now, at least all the ones I wanted, beginning with The Masqueraders set in 1746 through to Venetia set in 1818 excepting only Cousin Kate. I've half of them in hardcover, the other half in paperback. I'd like to have them all in hardcover, and I pick them up when I see them in used bookstores or used book sales. I got thinking about Heyer's books again the other day, when on they started to talk about Heyer books that they disliked.

That was a surprise to me. You see, I never before thought anyone would/could dislike a Georgette Heyer book. Well, I didn't like her now dated contemporaries, didn't read her mysteries, and didn't care for Cousin Kate, which is basically a Gothic. But I'm talking about the historical romances here--the Georgians and the Regencies. Oh, there are some I like better than others, but none that I dislike. Each and everyone has a character I love, or a situation I like, or a plot line I adore.
The folks on were talking about disliking False Colours. That is one of my favourites. Yes it moves slowly, but the twins, ah the twins, are lovely, and mistaken identity plots always grab me.

Someone didn't like The Tollgate because of the cant. The cant was a necessity given the setting. And for a dependable hero, a feisty heroine in an untenable situation, and a gentle murder mystery it can't be bettered.

I don't know why they didn't like Lady of Quality. For me the hero is strongly reminiscent of the hero of The Black Sheep, but I love The Black Sheep so why wouldn't I like Lady of Quality?

Bath Tangle is a bit problematic. The continuing confrontational attitude of the hero and heroine was cited as a reason for dislike. I can understand that. Yet both characters are so well drawn, and their long-standing relationship so clearly delineated that the passion and the reason for their verbal sparring is obvious. They are strong people, with opinions and attitudes to match.

The Masqueraders was singled out for disapprobation. But the people who didn't like it, admitted to a bias against 'secret identity' or 'identity swap' type plots. They didn't like False Colours either. As I said before, mistaken identity will hook me every time. We all wear masks; Georgette Heyer took the mask to the limit.

Cotillion and Charity Girl are probably my least favourite Heyers. Cotillion I must read again; when I read it first it disappointed me for it had no dashing hero. I'm older and wiser now Charity Girl I found derivative--one of her last books--and apparently written at a low point. But still I would be happy to pen such a work.

Georgette Heyer still enchants readers and is still in print thirty-five years after her death. No author could ask for more.

To explore Ms. Heyer's work further go to:
- Definitive Fan Website
- An Appreciation of Georgette Heyer by Jay Dixon (a very good bio and bibliography)
- The Romantic Novels of Georgette Heyer (an excellent, if occasionally condescending, article)
Which is your favourite Heyer? Why?
Till next time,

Friday, May 8, 2009

Regency Gardens

I've been thinking a lot about gardens recently as I clean up my own flower beds and prepare my terracotta pots for summer blooms. And of course, I began to think about Regency gardens.

That led me to the internet and my favourite thing, research. What I found confirmed that Regency garden information is dominated by the work of Humphrey Repton, the Picturesque movement and its natural woodland 'look'--trees, water and classical statuary and follies. Sezincote in Gloucestershire is the classic example of this style of gardening.

But I was thinking about Regency gardens on a smaller scale. I was hoping to find (easily) what plants the gardeners of the Regency favoured, in cottage gardens, in walled gardens, and in the flower pots on the terraces of the grand houses. Empress Josephine's roses are the only thing that came up, and certainly roses have featured repeatedly in Regency romance. I discovered that it will take considerably more research to discover other popular plants of the era.

But I found several other things. One is a book that looks delightful--"In the Garden with Jane Austen" by Kim Wilson. Here is the official blurb; I can't say it better: Bringing Jane Austen’s gardens—real and fictional—to life with excerpts from her novels and letters, period songs, poetry, and illustrations, this charming recollection offers tips for creating English gardens alongside Austen. This lavishly illustrated exploration with color photographs of gardens associated with the writer offers a rich experience to admirers of both Austen and gorgeous gardens. Complete with a reference section that includes important dates in Austen’s life, locations and dates of her houses, and a map of 1809 England, this delightful book is perfect for the history and garden enthusiast alike.

Another thing I found is a BBC TV series, with a companion book, called "Gardens Through Time". It is about the history of garden design, and follows the development of the Royal Horticultural Society from 1804. This series apparently has an episode titled "The Regency Townhouse Garden 1805"; presumably the book has a chapter with the same title. I would love to see/read that.

Two other books deserve mention. "Wordsworth's Gardens" by Carole Buchanan looks fascinating. With a scholarly bent, it covers Wordsworth's landscaping and gardening plans and connects his poetry to the gardens at Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount.
And Shire Publications, who do wonderful historical booklets, have one titled "Regency Gardens" written by Mavis Batey. It is out of print but it seems to be available in the out-of-print book world. It sounds like a must-have.

Then there are the gardens in England. Shugborough estate in Staffordshire has a Walled Garden restored authentically to 1805--same plants, vintage tools and planting methods. The Royal Pavilion at Brighton has authentic Regency gardens--they again emphasize the 'picturesque in nature', but include herbaceous plants, annuals and bulbs. The plantings began in 1816.

It will take more research to discover other Regency restorations; here are some websites I plan to investigate:

Two final notes: Jane Austen's World has several blogs on Regency gardens. Use 'regency-gardens' on their blog to search for them. And, if you are going to Britain in June, don't miss 'Regency Gardens', an afternoon talk by Cassie Knight at Chawton House (yes, Jane Austen's home!) in Hampshire on June 30. The afternoon includes garden tours and a tea. Oh, how I'd love to be there.

Till next time,


Saturday, May 2, 2009

A new bi-monthly contest

It was April 30 the other day--and that meant I did a contest drawing. Debby from the U.S.A. won the blank journal from Regency Fancies. The prize for May and June is a packet of 10 blank notecards-with Shakoriel art--from Regency Fancies. Go here to read about the contest and view the prize.

I have done some updates to my website. I added new pictures to the Transportation page

to the Childhood and Education page

and to the Regency colouring book

I hope you will visit my website and explore the additions! Also I am just getting started on Twitter. I will be posting soon at

That's all the news for now,