Thursday, September 13, 2018

Goodwin's Court, London: A Little Time Travel

Thursday, September 13, 2018
Loretta reports:

I’ve just been reading a history of Kensington and Chelsea and shaking my head over the numbers of old buildings that have disappeared. So have streets. While my imagination is strong, trying to get a strong visual sense of an area is sometimes very difficult. The world in which my characters lived is long gone. In London one can certainly find pre-Victorian houses as well as venerable public buildings (St. Paul’s doesn’t seem likely to go anywhere) but they’re surrounded and often overwhelmed by, primarily, late Victorian to 20th & 21st-century architecture. Streets have to accommodate automobiles—zillions of them—and they are not traveling at horse-and-carriage speed.

Standing inside Apsley House, with tour guide Kristine Hughes Patrone, I had to really work to get a sense of what the Duke of Wellington saw from his window. For instance, Hyde Park isn’t the same; neither is Hyde Park Corner; and the Marble Arch is not where it used to be. However, the once-controversial statue of Achilles (which I’ve used more than once in my books) is right where it’s supposed to be. So one starts with the existent and mentally paints in the rest. It works, but oh, wouldn't I like to travel invisibly in a bubble, and actually be there.

Sometimes one can come close, though. One day, following a reader’s suggestion, I made my way to Goodwin’s Court in Covent Garden.

Here was a little slice of my characters’ London: the kinds of shop fronts they might have gazed into, and the gas lights that would have illuminated (not very well) the place at night.

Though it’s one small court in London, it’s easily the kind of space I can imagine, say, a lot of troublemakers bursting out from, or a pair of friends stepping in to, in order have a conversation at a time when the streets would have been extremely noisy. There are other quiet little corners that don’t seem to have changed very much from the early 1800s. A step off the beaten track sometimes does seem like a step through a portal into the past. Goodwin’s Court is one of the better examples

You can see more images and read more about Goodwin’s Court here and here.

All photos copyright © 2018 Walter M. Henritze III
Please click on images to enlarge.


Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to post for some time: I have loved your novels for ages, Ms Chase, and have only recently discovered your joint blog. How wonderful! It is so enjoyable to see some of the research and sources you use in preparing the background/historical fabric of your novels. Many thanks - and please do continue!

- A European fan

Nick Bunker said...

Here's a suggestion, of another way to try to imagine London as it was in the 1700s- while in the city, try to take in a trip to the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) at 40 Northampton Road, Clerkwenwell, the home of the magnificent 19th and early 20th century photograph collection created by the old London County Council.
It contains hundreds of pictures of buildings and sometimes entire streets dating back to the Tudor period which were later destroyed after 1914 by developers or by German air raids. An excellent selection of images from the collection can be found in Philip Davies's superb book "Lost London," published by English Heritage in 2009.
I've used Victorian pictures from the LMA's photographic archives to illustrate my own new book "Young Benjamin Franklin: The Birth of Ingenuity," out next week (September 18th) from Alfred A. Knopf. The pictures show buildings that Franklin would have seen when he lived in London as a very young man for 18 months in 1724-6. The photographs were taken before these buildings were razed to the ground to make way for modern offices and the like.

Loretta Chase said...

Thank you, European Fan, for the very kind words! I'm glad you're enjoying traveling my research trails with me. Nick, thank you so much for the excellent suggestions. I'm putting the LMA on my itinerary for my next visit to London, and I'm going to look for the Davies book.

Jenny O said...

The Spitalfields Life blog is my absolute favorite source for London history, and the Gentle Author has written several posts with images of old London that I immediately thought of on reading your post today. This one ( has several engravings from the early-mid 19th century of the buildings of old London that are now gone, and at the bottom are links to similar posts, one of which contains photos of buildings destroyed later in the 19th century.

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