Friday, 28 August 2015

Strolling in St James's

Pursuing my research into Regency London, I managed to find a day when it didn’t rain to take a stroll around St James’s. This was nothing short of a miracle considering the mixed batch the weather has thrown at us recently.

A lifetime resident of our amazing capital, I still never cease to be amazed at its beautiful and varied architecture. I think it’s easy sometimes to dismiss what’s on our own doorstep while eulogising over the treasures on offer in other cities of the world. Impossible though not to be affected by the sight of a wide ribbon of water with its many iconic buildings on either side as one drives across one of the bridges that span the Thames. Or to marvel at the history as one takes a boat trip with the added benefit of a running commentary.

On this day though I was on foot and heading for an area that was frequented in times past by characters, both real and imagined, who appear in the novels of my heroine, Georgette Heyer. Even the modern day traffic and the roadworks barely impinged as I turned into St James’s Street. Instead I imagined horses, imposing carriages, beautifully dressed men and women, people on foot - though I was pulled up short when I considered the surface of the streets. Were they cobbled? Made of mud? Covered with wooden slats? I realised I had (and still have) no idea and I would appreciate any input from those of you in the know.

Blue Bell Yard
Many delights assailed my senses as I trod my way down the now, thankfully for me, solid pavement, but there were hidden gems as well. I turned into Blue Ball Yard, a narrow way which led into a beautifully preserved mews dating from the 1740s. With its stables below and rooms above I could, even in its modern day presentation with outdoor seating and hanging flowers, imagine noble steeds as grooms brushed their coats to a shining finish, well-maintained tack, the pleasant smell of a horse yard. For a time I was lucky to be the owner of a skittish but lovable half-Arab horse so the things this experience evoked were real memories, not just my imaginings.

I returned again to St James’s Street to enjoy its delights before taking another diversion into Pickering Place. Through the passage to where it expanded at the end, I found myself standing where it was reputed the last ever duel in London took place in the 1840s. Was it swords or pistols? I must check. Pickering Place was also home a notorious gaming hell which Georgette Heyer mentions in several of her books.

At the end of St James’s Street at the junction with Pall Mall stands St James’s Palace. It is historically and to this day a very important royal residence and though its doors are not open to the public it is much used for official functions. On the day of my walk, though, I could only imagine the royal princes in residence in times gone by. I have no doubt there was much that was sordid in Regency times, as indeed there has been in most periods of history, but to me it evokes elegance, etiquette and beautiful buildings. I’m looking forward to continuing my research as I plan my next novel, an innovation for me. I am moving from contemporary romance to an inspiring bygone age. I hope my heroine enjoys her time there.

I am indebted to Louise Allen for her wonderful guidebook, Walks Through Regency London


  1. I wish I had such variety within walking distance.

    As St. James's was such an exclusive place, there probably would have been cobbles.
    Not sure if it was reality or fiction but I've heard there were people who earnt a little money by sweeping the mud and other muck out of the way of people crossing the road...

    1. It's quite fascinating, Carol. Because I've always written contemporary fiction before I've never had to involve myself in quite as much research. I've heard other writers say they get carried away by it - and now I can see why.

  2. I love wandering London when we visit. Last time we spent ages around Temple, but I haven't done the same at St James. Will look forward to it!

    Stephanie Jane

    1. I've lived here all my life, Stephanie, and I still find it awe-inspiring. Every time I cross one of the bridges and glance to right and left I realise again how lucky I am