I spent my first visit to London, many years ago, in a state of swoon. As one who grew up in a Massachusetts mill town bent on tearing down all its old buildings (it's a world where late Victorian is ancient= decrepit), I couldn’t believe that so many of the famous Regency locales—the ones that came up in so many books—were still there.
Several London visits later, the thrill remains. On my last visit, I made yet another pilgrimage to St. James’s Street—this time with very clear purpose, because I was on Book Two of a series about some slightly French dressmakers, and I'd given them a shop at No. 56 (because there had once been a dressmaker at that address).
And so I walked the routes my characters would travel, and decided which of the buildings on St. James’s Street looked most like my idea of the dressmaker’s shop. It would have been nice had this been the actual building at No. 56, but the address seems to have been swallowed up, along with another number or two, by a large modern building with no personality I could discern. However, being an author makes me a god of sorts—and I can shape buildings to my will, among other powers—so I turned another more charming building into No. 56 for story purposes. I also created for it an adjoining court leading to the rear, on the principle that there could have been one. On the opposite side of the street there exists exactly the sort of court I required. And the back of a very famous shop runs along this court: Berry Brothers and Rudd.
This is one of the places that makes this NHG excited and swoony.
In Beau Brummell’s time Berry Brothers was already old. In its early incarnation, in the late 17th, early 18th century, it supplied customers with coffee, tea, snuff, spices, and such. In the early 19th century, it was the place where Brummell and his friends bought wine and went to be weighed. No, they didn't have bathroom scales. Even royal dukes had themselves weighed at Berry Brothers.
The scales are still there, as you can see in these photos, as are the records of who weighed how much.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.