Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Covent Garden

The book I’m currently working on has a lot of scenes set in a house of ill repute in Covent Garden. So off to the research I went.
I loved doing it. I could visit Covent Garden as it is now on a recent visit to London and then go home and read and read.
Covent Garden was originally the garden to a convent, but that is long gone. The current layout was designed by Inigo Jones in the 1630’s, designed as an upmarket residential area with fine houses and an open piazza in the middle.

It never really caught on as an area for the rich to live in, but it became a playground for them instead.
In the early mornings, Covent Garden was a market for fresh produce. London was surrounded by market gardens, which grew the vegetables and fruit that fed the population of the largest city in the world. Every morning, carts would bring in the produce, and sell it to the populace. Housewives, maids, servants in large houses, owners of the eating houses, would turn up to buy it, and until very recently, they still did. Congestion put an end to Covent Garden Market, but in the mid eighteenth century, it was going strong.
Later in the day, the market gave way to the nightlife. With the two biggest theatres in London nearby, the piazza could be thronged with traffic, taking people to Drury Lane or the Opera, and picking them up again afterwards.

And then there was the shadier side. Many of the houses surrounding the piazza, and some of the smaller places were houses of ill repute. Brothels. They catered to most tastes, and half of fashionable society – the male half – would frequent the area in search of not so innocent enjoyment. Not only brothels, but places of bawdy entertainment and gaming hells. Gambling in Georgian England has often been described as a disease, with fortunes passing over the tables, whether it was in the salons, the coffeehouses or the hells.
One book helps modern researchers enormously. Harris’s List was a best seller of the Georgian age. It was a guidebook to London – with a difference. It was constantly updated and featured ladies of the night. All except the unfortunates who walked the streets, too numerous to account for and not the kind of woman the average London tourist would be interested in.
So my hero visits a place called Mother Brown’s. It did exist, but not in the house I chose for it, and not with the same reputation. Mother Brown’s is the best, and is a gaming house as well as a brothel. The tables are “straight,” and God help anyone who tries to mark the cards or weight the dice!
Lynne Connolly

1 comment:

kate tremayne said...

Interesting informative post Lynne. The characters who would visit Georgian Covent Garden sums up so many aspects of the diversity of life and class at the time.