Today I thought I’d try one of the walks created by Louise Allen in her book Walking Jane Austen’s London. I decided to start with #2 Marylebone and Bond Street, perhaps because it’s not far from where I’m staying on Crawford Street, and I’ve already walked a bit in that area.
I took the Tube to Bond Street and first walked to Grosvenor Square, which is not on this tour, but is a place mentioned in my recently-completed time travel, and I wanted to see if I’d got it right. It was more or less what I expected, except that I didn’t realize the American Embassy was located there. I think that needs to be mentioned, since my heroine would definitely have known that.
And I have to say this because it’s been so disappointing to see the construction going on everywhere I go. Okay, it’s a good sign that these properties are being maintained and improved. I get that. But it seems like there’s no place I can go to avoid it, not a single park or historical building (or so it seems). It makes it really difficult to imagine the way things were in Georgian times when there are scaffolds and orange cones everywhere. So many of the buildings have been “swept away”, as Louise Allen puts it, and replaced by modern construction as it is. My selfish, spoiled brat side feels cheated that so much of what remains is covered with tarps!
Tour Beginning: Marble Arch
To continue, I started the tour at Marble Arch, but forgot to look for Tyburn, so I’ll have to go back later. (Note: I think these tours would be easier for two people instead of just one. It’s hard to read the book and at the same time look for streets and house numbers. In many cases, the original buildings are no longer there anyway, so it’s almost impossible to imagine what it was really like.) In Jane’s day, public executions had been moved to Newgate anyway.
I saw the Austens’ house at No. 24 Upper Berkeley Street, which is now a hotel. Jane’s sister Cassandra stayed there, but there is no indication that Jane herself did.
I walked down Berkeley Mews, but it was hard to imagine a mews being there, with horses and carriages and all. Then I walked around Portman Square and took a few photos. Jane dined with her aunt on Orchard Street (which turns into Baker Street) on her first recorded trip to London. I walked down Baker Street (which shows no signs of being “perhaps the handsomest street in London”) and turned into George Street to walk past The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, which I wrote about last week.
Wigmore Street is where Lord and Lady Hamilton set up housekeeping together, quite close to where Captain and Mrs. Horatio Nelson were living on Cavendish Square at the same time. I didn’t stop to find Number 11, where Jane stopped at Christian & Son’s, drapers, to buy fabric. (Too many people, and no, they weren’t doing the Jane Austen tour!)
I saw Harley Street, famous for its doctors, and recalled that the first Harlequin romance I ever read, Dear Doctor Marcus by Barbara Perkins, had a doctor hero on Harley Street. (Nope, actually it was Wimpole Street. Oh well, that was a long time ago, and besides, I walked down nearby Wimpole Street too.) I read that book many, many times!
Not sure how I missed Coutts Bank on Cavendish Square. I recall that Coutts was the banker who kept lending money to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, when she was desperate to find some way to pay her gambling debts. Again, the difficulty of walking and trying to read a book at the same time.
St. George’s, Hanover Square, which was the fashionable place for weddings in the Regency period, was a bit of a disappointment. The doors were closed (alas, it’s closed on Saturday!), and because of its placement on a crowded, busy street, it was hard to get a good photo of it. It also looked a bit dirty and neglected, but the inside—according to photos on the Internet—is another thing entirely! The composer Handel was a member here, and the Earl of Jersey (Sally Jersey’s better half) was a church warden in 1794.
Then it was on to New Bond Street, which, as then, is where you’ll find all the most exclusive shops. Talk about Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills! Some stores had doormen dressed to the nines standing outside, presumably to only allow the most exclusive people inside. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t qualify, even with my stylish New Orleans hat, and I didn’t want to melt my credit card, so I admired them all from the outside, as did most of the people in the street, interestingly enough. (I wonder who can afford to shop at these places!)
The shop opposite No. 143, now a Ralph Lauren, is the original building of chemists Savory & Moore, who included in their clientele such influential people as Wellington and Lady Hamilton, the Duke of Sussex (the brother of George IV).
On the corner of New Bond and Grafton Streets was the location of Grafton House home of high-class drapers Wilding & Kent, of which Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra: “I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; & what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too.”
I am sorry to say that at this point I ran into the Burlington Arcade, and got distracted from the tour. Many of the small stores not only had closed doors, but locks, and since the gorgeous jewelry in the windows had no prices on them, I figured it wasn’t worthwhile to attempt to go inside. But I did have a good time admiring the sparklies, and it seemed like most of the other people did too.
At that point, I reached Picadilly Street and the end of the tour. I was too tired to go back to Old Bond Street, so I stopped and had some sparkling water and yogurt at a Café Nero’s. I really needed to hit Marks & Spencers for some groceries, but was too tried to go back to Oxford Street, so I headed for the Tube station, and—oh joy—there was an M & S right there! I love their prepared meals, not frozen and probably not filled with tons of preservatives. I also really like that there are so many organic foods here in England. Makes me feel the English are much more concerned with their health than we Americans. Although I do see plenty of them at McDonald’s and KFC. [Sigh]. I hate thinking that we are contaminating the world with our junk food. But then, there is plenty of English junk food too!
This tour is supposed to be 2.25 miles. Adding in the trip to Grosvenor Square and several wrong turns, I’d guess I walked at least four miles. Not as much as walking to Chatsworth from Beeley last week, but still a respectable length. I was tired, but it didn’t kill me. Good to know!
All in all, it was a great day, and I’m sure I’ll do another tour quite soon. While it is disappointing to see so many Georgian buildings replaced by modern monstrosities, it’s a great way to walk the streets Jane did and frankly, become better acquainted with modern London (which is pretty cool in itself) too.
Crossing streets: Okay, I understand the red and green walking figures, although most Londoners don’t seem to, since they rarely wait for the green signal. But more streets don’t have them than do, so I can’t tell you how many times I’ve barely avoided being struck down by a car.
Have you ever done a walking tour like this? I’d love to hear your experiences!