If you like history, romance or shopping, you will certainly enjoy today’s article by romance author, Regan Walker. Oxford Street in London is one of the settings in Regan’s new release, To Tame the Wind, which is set at the end of the eighteenth century. Though shopping malls had yet to be developed in the late eighteenth century, Regan shares with us her research on a shopping area which was popular with the upper classes in London at that time.
Just sit back and let Regan take you on a tour of eighteenth-century Oxford Street . . .
Looking for an unusual shopping experience? How about joining me for a trip down Oxford Street in the late 18th century? Oh yes! You would have loved it.
Today, Oxford Street is a thoroughfare in the West End of London, but its origins are old and in 1782, the year of my new Georgian romance, To Tame the Wind, 1782, it was variously known as Tyburn Road, Uxbridge Road, Worcester Road and Oxford Road. It became famous as the route taken by prisoners on their final journey from Newgate Prison to the gallows at Tyburn. By about 1729 it was also known as Oxford Street.
London’s population grew tremendously in the 18th century from about 630,000 in 1715 to 740,000 in 1760. Its port, the London Pool on the Thames, was the busiest in the world. Much money was spent in building beautiful town houses, pleasure gardens, squares, museums—and, importantly for our excursion today, shops.
To venture into London’s streets was to brave pickpockets, cutthroats, bawds and bullies, not to mention mud and filth, stench from sewage and the black rain from the sea coal that was burned for heating. But on Oxford Street, where window-shopping had become a past time of the upper classes, things were better.
Though Sophie de la Roche, a German visitor to London in 1786, thought the houses in London were not so splendid as those in Paris, she raved about the shopping on Oxford Street:
We strolled up and down lovely Oxford Street this evening, for some goods look more attractive by artificial light…First one passes a watchmaker’s, then a silk or fan store, now a silversmiths, a china or glass shop. Just as alluring are the confectioners and fruiterers, where, behind the handsome glass windows, pyramids of pineapples, figs, grapes, oranges and all manner of fruits are on show.
When my heroine, Claire, in To Tame the Wind goes shopping with Cornelia, Lady Danvers, it is to Oxford Street where they browse the shop windows while Cornelia fills Claire in on the rather interesting origins of the hero, Captain Simon Powell.
And this is what Claire and Lady Danvers would have seen, as noted by Sophie de la Roche:
A street taking half an hour to cover from end to end, with double rows of brightly shining lamps, in the middle of which stands an equally long row of beautifully lacquered coaches, and on another side of these there is room for two coaches to pass one another and the pavement inlaid with flagstones can stand six people deep and allows one to gaze at the splendidly rich shop fronts in comfort.
Another visitor to London, de la Rochefoucauld, remarked,
Everything the merchant possesses is displayed behind windows which are always beautifully clean and the shops are built with a little projection on to the street so that they can be seen from three sides.
Of course he is talking about what we call “bay windows,” seen in many shops today.
At one time London shops displayed painted signs. There were roasted pigs and spotted lions, dogs and gridirons, which had no connection with the things sold in the shop. The signs posed problems, too, making noise as they creaked in the wind and sometimes falling onto those shopping. Gads! Watch your head!
In 1766, the signs were removed and to replace them and to tell shoppers what goods were being offered, some shops displayed symbols of their trade, like the barber’s pole, the grocer’s sugar loaf and the golden arm holding a mallet (the sign of the goldsmith). Others put their names and occupations on signs above their shops. Hence, Mrs. Duval, the modiste that Claire and Lady Danvers visit in my novel (an actual modiste of the time on Bond Street), featured a spool of thread as well as her name painted on the glass.
One foreign traveler to London, after viewing the new signs, remarked,
‘Dealer in foreign spirituous liquors’ is by far the most frequent.
Ha! Some things never change. So, perhaps we might pick up a bottle of Madeira on the way home? Wonderful!
If you’d like to see the scene in my story and read about the romance between Claire Donet, daughter of a French pirate, and Capt. Simon Powell, a spy for the Crown, it’s all in To Tame the Wind!
–Shirlee Busbee, NY Times Bestselling Author
Paris 1782…AN INNOCENT IS TAKEN
All Claire Donet knew was the world inside the convent walls in Saint-Denis. She had no idea her beloved papa was a pirate. But when he seized Simon Powell’s schooner, the English privateer decided to take the one thing his enemy held most dear… her.
A BATTLE IS JOINED
The waters between France and England roil with the clashes of Claire’s father and her captor as the last year of the American Revolution rages on the sea, spies lurk in Paris and Claire’s passion for the English captain rises.
On my website (http://www.reganwalkerauthor.com/), you can see the trailer, read what reviewers have said and even see the recipe for Claire’s gingered carrot soup!