Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Georgian and Regency Greenwich

This month I have a new book out in the US, Desired, book 5 in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series. Desired will be out in the UK next year. One of the geographical locations I used for the book was Greenwich. I love modern day Greenwich with its park, riverfront and Maritime Museum and as a place with a long and fascinating history it proved to be a very interesting setting for a book.

Here are a few of the things I learned about Greenwich in the course of my research:

At the beginning of the 18th century Greenwich was an impoverished fishing village on the Thames with no more than a collection of timber cottages on some dirty lanes and some very dodgy inns such as Fubb’s Yacht, a notorious “beer house” for the sailors. By the end of the century, however, planners were imposing order and geometry on the growing town, designing houses in the style of Bath or Cheltenham but on a miniature scale. Gloucester Circus was the epitome of this, two crescents of houses enclosing a central circle. Only one of these crescents was built and the twenty-one houses, completed in 1809, are still standing.

Greenwich was the place where the body of Lord Nelson was brought ashore after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. It was Christmas Eve 1805 and crowds had gathered but the weather was so poor that by the time the ship carrying Nelson finally arrived in Greenwich at 8pm, everyone had gone home assuming that he would not arrive that day. The sailors carrying Nelson’s coffin had to leave it at the top of the riverfront steps whilst they went off to find someone to let them in to the Seaman’s Hospital.

Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince Regent, rented Montague House in nearby Blackheath from 1798 and was a fixture on the Greenwich party scene. One guest commented of her: “The Princess is grown very coarse and she dresses very ill, shewing too much of her naked person.”

The Blackheath caverns were a considerable tourist attraction during the Regency period. They consisted of four underground caves cut from the chalk. They appealed to the romantically inclined as dating from an age long past and there were wild theories about their origins and purpose. Visitors complained of the cold and the spooky atmosphere and suggested that they had been created in Anglo Saxon times as a hiding place from the Vikings. In fact they originated as a 16th century quarry but this explanation was not suitably gothic to satisfy people. During the 19th century candles were installed in the caves and masked balls held there. These were considered extremely indecorous.

I drew much of my research from “The Story of Greenwich” by Clive Aslet and “Greenwich” by Charles Jennings which are both great reads as well as being packed full of useful facts.


Liz said...

Nicola, as always, you set out such fascinating tidbits. Best wishes for success of Desired.

Maggie May said...

Was there a reason for not burying Nelson at sea? Was the Seaman's Hosptial used as a holding until he could be buried? I know embalming use not practiced in the United States until the Civil War.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks, Liz! I do love discovering all these obscure details. They always add colour to a story and make the history real to me.

Maggie, I think they didn't bury Nelson at sea simply because he was a national hero and they wanted to honour him with a state funeral. Which of course meant that the poor man had to be pickled in brandy!

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Terrific post, Nicola. I'd love to go to an indecorous masked ball in the Blackheath candle-lit caverns! And meet a handsome, masked and dangerously exciting stranger, of course!

Nicola Cornick said...

Oh, me too, Elizabeth!

Jan Jones said...

Fascinating incidents, Nicola!

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you, Jan!