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Friday, January 29, 2016

London's Historic Pubs, Part I

©Cheryl Bolen
Our whole family has a love affair with London, and since our sons have grown we've spent a lot of our time in its pubs.

Though my boys are far more discerning over their beer, bitters, ale, and stout (I may not have all that right because I'm not all that discerning about such) I, on the other hand, am more discerning about history. I love historical pubs.

In London, you can find a pub (this name a shortening of public house) on every block, but it's much harder to find a historic pub in the world's most urbane, international city. Nowadays, many pubs have morphed into wine bars. Others have eschewed traditional "pub grub" like shepherd's pie for appetizers like . . . can you believe nachos? And many have gone Zen with their decor. We prefer dark with rich old wood bars. We love to get fish and chips and kidney and shepherd's pies. If there's a fireplace, so much the better. My last consideration is "associations." What historical figures  are associated with the pub?

The oldest pubs typically are in the oldest parts of London, around The City and the boroughs immediately surrounding it. (There are 32 boroughs in this vast city.) Most of the really old pubs will have low ceilings and often are housed in several smaller rooms.

Here's a list of historical pubs we have sampled. It is not complete because we will continue adding to it with each new trip.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
One of the first historical pubs we ever checked out was Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (rebuilt in 1667) in The City. Though there's a sign for it on Fleet Street, customers enter through a "close," which is a narrow pedestrian street, off of Fleet.
My husband and son beneath Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese sign.

Many decades ago my high school English teacher showed us slides from her 1950s trip to London. I remembered two things about those slides more than 20 years later when I took my first trip to England. I recalled all the post-war rubble of bombed buildings—and the name of an old pub where Samuel Johnson and many other literati had imbibed, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

Now, no trip to London is complete for us without a swing by the quaint, dark warren of rooms. We prefer the tiny front one with its own fireplace. We loved being there on weekdays and seeing all the bankers and journalists coming off Fleet Street in their suits for an after-work pint. Sadly, in recent years, it's been discovered by tourists, and those British accents are becoming rare.

Spaniard's Inn
My sons at Spaniard's Inn
The second must-visit pub for us each trip is the Spaniards Inn, which we first discovered on a 1996 trip, though it's been in picturesque Hampstead alongside the Hampstead Heath since 1585. Hampstead is about four miles north of Charring Cross. The pub/inn is located by a tiny 400-year old toll house that's no longer in use. A lot of history is associated with this inn. Famed highwayman Dick Turpin (1707-1739) was said to have been a regular, and poets John Keats and Lord Byron were frequent guests. It's said Keats, who lived nearby, wrote Ode to a Nightingale in the inn's garden's.

I prefer the interior's low-ceilinged nest of rooms, some with cozy high-back benches of old oak. If there's no rain and even a hint of sunshine, Londoners, on the other hand, will opt to eat and drink in the large garden, part of which is arbored. 

Unlike Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, this has not been overrun by tourists. It is very popular with locals from the posh surrounding neighborhoods of Hampstead and Highgate, and its parking lot (a rarity for a London pub) is filled with Range Rovers and BMWs.  

The George Inn
Photos by Cheryl Bolen

Just as atmospheric as the first two, The George is London's last remaining galleried inn. It is the only one on our current list located south of the River Thames, in Southwark. Just steps from the Tower Bridge underground station and a minute's walk from the river, The George is still entered the same way as coaches and horses entered when the inn was rebuilt in 1676. The former inn yard now offers ample outdoor seating.

Though the National Trust bought the inn to preserve it, it's no museum. It's a popular hangout for food and drink, and the interiors are authentic English pub. Like Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The George is composed of many small rooms that offer that unique coziness that promotes good conversation and good times. It was visited by Charles Dickens and mentioned in his Little Dorrit.

Cittie of Yorke
Bolen Boys at Cittie of Yorke
Though there's been a pub on this site since 1430, the current one is decidedly Victorian though it only dates to the 1920s. It's located in High Holborn not far from the Chancery Lane underground station. It was formerly known as Henneky's Long Bar and was the subject of a Dylan Thomas ode.

Though it's a vast departure from the low-ceilinged labyrinths of some of our favorite old pubs, this is a must-see. There's a cozy front room, but the heart and soul of this wonderful pub is its high-ceilinged main room with the famed long bar. Something about it—perhaps its high clerestory windows—reminded me of the big hall in the Augustinian Brewery in Salzburg. There is plenty of dark wood here to add the patina of age.
Enjoying a pint (or half pint) in one of the quaint cubicles at Cittie of Yorke.
The pride of place at the Cittie of Yorke are the Victorian-style oak cubicles that line either side of this large, wood-floored chamber. We had to wait to claim one, but it was well worth it. An added plus is the pub's endorsement by the Campaign for Real Ale.

Part II, Next Blog
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern, High Holborn/Chancery Lane
Red Lion in Westminster
The Cross Keys in Covent Garden
The Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden
The Old Bell Tavern in the City
Cheryl Bolen's third Brazen Brides book, Oh What a (Wedding) Night, releases this spring.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Carriages and Coaches in Regency England

People in Regency England depended heavily upon horseback and carriage to get around. Many of them traveled extensively from their country homes to London for the Season, which was both a social and political time of year while the House of Lords was in session. Many roads were terrible, and weather and highwaymen made travel uncomfortable as well as dangerous. To accommodate the Regency gentry or nobility, the styles, paint design and features of carriages were as varied as today’s automobiles, and many were also custom-made. Nobility had their family coat of arms painted on the side of their family coach. Image, status, and money, as well as personal taste, were all factors in choosing a carriage. A reader may come across a number of different names for conveyances. Unless one is willing to do research, these names may mean nothing. So, to help you visualize types of vehicles in historical novels, here are some more commonly used types:

Barouche (pictured): a very expensive and large four-passenger carriage pulled by four horses. Its folding hood could be raised but it only covered two of the passengers. This was viewed as a status symbol to own and provided a stylish way to be seen showing off wealth and clothing. It also allowed for unimpeded views, so they were ideal for sight-seeing.

Curricle(pictured) a vehicle meant for two horses, it was small and only had two wheels. Its hood folded down, like a convertible. Lightweight and very fast, it was a favorite of young men who wished to show off driving skills and a perfectly matched team. Thrill-seekers often used it in racing, but it tipped over easily, so it was dangerous, hence the challenge and allure.

Dog cart: named so because owners often used it for taking fox hounds to a hunt. It had a seat in front for one driver, and a seat facing the rear of the carriage that could fold down for two passengers. Originally named a dog cart due to the ventilated box under the seat to keep hunting dogs when they drove to the fox hunt, this box also created an ideal place to stow cargo. There were both two- and four-wheeled versions. Another vehicle called a dog cart was a small four-wheeled cart pulled by dogs, generally to transport containers of milk or other cargo.

Family coach: a closed carriage that comfortably seated four passengers. The driver sat up front, way up high. It had windows, curtains, lanterns and usually storage compartments for refreshments and supplies. They also normally featured small desks for writing the many extensive letters Regency people were so mad about sending and receiving.

Gig: much like the dog cart, often popular with country doctors, is a two-wheeled vehicle with a seat wide enough for one or two people.

Governess cart: also called a “jaunting cart,” sometimes driven by ladies but most often by children. It was small and light, and pulled by one pony or donkey.
Hackney Coach 1800 @wikimedia commons

Hackney (pictured): like the modern day taxi cab, these could be carriages of any kind, but typically those that were closed, and driven by the cab driver, called a jarvey. They were most often used in London. One could hail them from the street, or go to a hackney stand where the jarveys hung out until they found a paying passenger.

Hansom: a two-wheeled carriage used as a cab. Most sources date its usage beginning with the Victorian Era. If this is true, it would not have been around during the Regency.

Landau (pictured): an open carriage with folding hoods that could be raised to protect the passengers. Like the Barouche, it was ideal when one wanted to see and be seen. It, too, had a driver up front and was pulled by four horses. Cinderella's carriage reminds me of a Landau.

Phaeton(pictured): a smaller two-seater used by owners who drove themselves. It had a roof, but the front and sides were open, although some pictures show it as having a folding hood. The front two wheels were smaller than the back wheels. Often the seat was very high, so much so that one required a ladder to reach it. It was also often referred to as the high-perch phaeton. It was considered stylish and rakish.

Post Chaise: technically any carriage that could be hired out  by someone who wished to travel privately and not with a group of strangers such as a stage coach or mail coach. By the Regency it was usually  small, chariot-style carriage which could be pulled by two or four horses, (but usually four) often painted yellow, and had one seat, which seated two. It also had an outside, rear facing seat for servants and a platform in front for luggage. The driver, called a postilion, rode on the backs of the left lead horse instead of on a bench on the carriage.
There were also stage coaches and mail coaches, which were public transportation for the person who didn’t mind (or were forced by the size of their purse) to travel with other passengers. They followed select routes and stopped at inns for food and for changing out the team of horses. The mail coach was the cheapest way to travel, and the most uncomfortable because its primary function was to carry mail rather than passengers. Sometimes, passengers were obliged to ride on top, and there are stories of that proving a fatal way to travel.

Traveling in Regency England was so difficult and dangerous, I'm honestly surprised people did it at all. But I suppose our ancestors will look back at us and how many car accidents and traffic jams occur in our era, and will wonder the same about us. It all boils down to a need to get somewhere, and the means at one's disposal for getting there.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Fancy

"One of the fancy, but not a fancy man...”  That was how Pierce Egan described his hero in Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis.
Egan's Tom and Jerry appeared in 1821.  Prior to this, Egan wrote for various newspapers boxing and horse racing events in England, and published Boxiana; or Sketches of Modern Pugilism as a serial put out between 1811 and 1813. As shown in Life in London, no gentleman could consider him a sporting man if he could not box. Egan defined "the Fancy" in his Boxiana as: " simply means, any person is fond of a particular amusement, or closely attached to some subject."
In this case, to boxing.
Fist fighting had begun to replace sword or cudgel sports during George I’s reign.  Though it was illegal--for fights often became drunken brawls--betting made it enough of an attraction to draw nobility as well as common folks.  The first official champion of England was James Figg, who was also an expert swordsman and who later opened a School of Arms (called either Figg's Academy or Figg's Amphitheater).
Promoting "the nationality" of boxing, Egan even reported in Boxiana of female pugilism, quoting from a newspaper advertisement of 1722 which held a challenge from Elizabeth Wilkinson of Clerkenwell to Hannah Hyfield of Newgate Market to "box me for three guineas" and stating that "she may expect a good thumping!"
The science of boxing is generally attributed to Jack Broughton, champion of England from 1734 to 1750. Called “the father of British pugilism” Broughton drafted the rules that were used before and during the Regency.  (It was not until 1866 that the Queensberry Rules were developed by the Eighth Marquis of Queensberry and John G. Chambers.) Broughton also invented the “mufflers” or boxing gloves that were used for practice since all prize-fights were fought with bare fists. 
Broughton’s rules outlawed hitting below the belt, striking an opponent who was down (which included being on his knees). Wrestling holds were allowed only above the waist. Every fighter had a gentleman to act as umpire, with a third to referee disagreements. When a fighter was knocked down, he had 30 seconds to get up—or have help getting up—and then he had to be placed at the corner of a 3-foot square that was drawn in the center of the ring.
Egan reports that boxing was so popular in 1791 that the champion Dan Mendoza "was induced to open a the small theater at the Lyceum, in the Strand, for the express purpose of public exhibitions of sparring."
Many retiring champion boxers found more money to be had in sparring, or if they had business sense, in opening schools, as had Broughton and Figg. During the Regency, the most famous of boxing schools was opened John Jackson, who retired after winning the championship in a hard-fought match with Daniel Mendoza. Jackson opened the Bond Street School of Arms at Number 13, next door to his friend and fencing instructor Henry Angleo, who urged his students to alternate with lessons from Jackson—which made sense for Jackson advocated footwork and the science of targeting a hit.
Everyone went to Jackson’s, even Lord Byron, the lame poet. When tasked with keeping such low company Byron insisted that Jackson’s manners were “infinitely superior to those of the fellows of the college whom I meet at the high table.”
Egan wrote of Jackson in Boxiana, "In the pugilistic hemisphere, Jackson has long been viewed as a fixed star...To Nature he is indebted or an uncommonly fine person; his symmetry of form is attractive in the extreme, and he is considered one of the best-made men in the kingdom..."
Other boxing champions of the Regency era included: Jack Bartholomew, champion from 1797 to 1800.
Jem Belcher who often wore a blue scarf marked with white spots and blue centers around his neck, which became known as the Belcher neckcloth, and soon sporting mad young bucks were wearing any scarf of garish color with spots. “Hen” Pearce, “The Game Chicken,” who held the title from 1803 to 1806 when he retired. John Gully who won the championship in 1807 and retired in 1808 to open a racing stable. And Tom Cribb became the champion in 1808, winning a famous bout against African-American Tom Molineaux on December 18, 1810. Cribb went on to hold the champion title until 1822. (As an interesting footnote, Tom’s less famous brother, George had about five fights, and lost all of them.)