I’ve just spent four days in Bath researching Georgian buildings and costume and generally soaking up the atmosphere of one of England’s finest Georgian cities. I don’t actually use Bath as a setting in my work in progress (Silverwolf, the sequel to Winterwood) but I do have a section of the book set in Georgian London and since that (mostly) doesn’t exist any more, I figured Bath was a good place to start for general information on buildings and costume – and for ambience. This is the Circus – built 1764 -1768
I visited 1 Royal Crescent, a restored Georgian gentleman’s house, the Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms, the Jane Austen museum and the Roman Baths and Pump Rooms. The latter wasn’t strictly speaking necessary, but the hot springs were an integral part of Georgian Bath and much of the complex of buildings as it stands today was the product of the Georgian imagination. We tend to forget that the Roman Baths would originally have been enclosed in a building with an impressively engineered roof span rather than open to the sky.
And as you can see the Pump Room is still doing a roaring trade in polite afternoon teas, though people don’t quite dress up as they used to. There’s a trio playing classical music (piano, violin and ‘cello) and the teas are very traditional, i.e. delicate cucumber sandwiches and cakes. (I confess to consuming three cream teas in four days during my visit!)
Of course, this is Bath and I’m transferring the essence of what I learned to the London of 1801. Gleaning the details from a distance always puts you in danger of getting something wrong which is glaringly obvious when you actually stand in a place and look around. (Though, of course, most of your readers haven’t been there in person either.)
I’ve done some of my London research at a distance. There’s not much choice really because the place as it was simply doesn’t exist any more, though there are remnants such as elegant Georgian streets in the West End. (Thank you Googlemaps and Street View.)
It’s not even the same London Bridge. Old London Bridge was demolished in 1831 and a new one built a short distance away. Luckily there are records of when things changed. I have the Horwood map which is 1806, beautifully detailed – and about the closest I’m going to get. But there are still unknowns.
There’s a very old pub that still exists – by Wapping Old Stairs – called the Town of Ramsgate. At least that’s what it’s called now, but according to the pub’s own website, in 1766 it became known as Ramsgate Old Town and by 1811 it was known as The Town of Ramsgate. My characters are there in 1800, so what was it called then? I’ve plumped for Town of Ramsgate, but I might be wrong. Sometimes, try as you might, you’re going to get it wrong. I guess it’s a question of getting it wrong plausibly.