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A little over two months ago now, my husband, my daughter and I boarded this plane–a LONG direct flight from SeaTac to Heathrow–for the beginning of our European adventure. I thought that over my next few blog posts, I’d share some pictures and stories from our journey, focusing on those of most interest to Regency readers.


If your vacation is going to focus on history, what better place to start than a TARDIS? (When we asked Miss Fraser what she wanted to see in London, her immediate response was “the TARDIS.” Mr. Fraser was able to track down a blue police box still standing, doubtless just for the sake of photo ops like this one of my two nearest and dearest.)


While in London we also stopped by Trafalgar Square, where we saw Nelson atop his column, and Hyde Park Corner, home of a handsome equestrian statue of my beloved Duke of Wellington.



Along the way we visited St Paul’s, where I spent some time in the crypt to pay my respects to Nelson and Wellington at their tombs, but as photography is forbidden in the cathedral, I have no pictures to show for it. Sadly, the same is true of Apsley House, the Great Duke’s impressive London home (my bored daughter’s understatement: “this IS a really fancy house”)…foiling my plans to take a selfie with the outsized and grandiose nude statue of Napoleon contained therein.

I do highly recommend Apsley House for any Regency fan visiting London, incidentally. It’s not one of the Major Big Deal Sights–which means it’s less crowded and you have more time to linger over all the portraits (many of which will look SO familiar to you if you’ve read nonfiction of the era at all), the furnishings, and the general sumptuousness of it all.

But after only a few days in London it was time for Brussels and the Waterloo reenactment. Our entire family loved Brussels. Compared to London and Paris, it has a parochial, small-city feel (despite the whole EU capital thing), and since we didn’t have tremendous expectations for it, almost everything was a pleasant surprise. It’s beautiful, in an echoes-of-antique-grandeur sort of way:


And Belgian chocolate? Even better than you’re imagining. AMAZING. When people ask Miss Fraser what was her favorite place in Europe, she always says, “Belgium, because of the chocolate,” and I can’t really argue that point. (That our Brussels hotel had excellent and reliable wifi doubtless raised it in her estimation too.) I also fell in love with the frites, especially the ones in this little storefront place across the square from our hotel with the tourist-trappy name “Belgian Frites.” I wouldn’t have tried it if I hadn’t noticed the long lines of local teenagers my second day there–after which I had frites with mayo as lunch or an afternoon snack four days in a row.

The Waterloo reenactment, however, didn’t quite live up to all my expectations. It might’ve been better if we’d been part of an organized tour with a guide to show us around. As is, it was a bit chaotic and challenging to navigate and understand what was going on.

The actual anniversary of the battle fell on a Thursday, but the organizers held the reenactment on Friday and Saturday evenings. I wanted to have the experience of standing on that ground two hundred years to the day after the battle, so on the 18th we schlepped out to the battlefield by train, bus, and long walk, and visited the Allied reenactor camp.




We didn’t get the opportunity to actually hang out with reenactors, somewhat to my disappointment–the handful of times I’ve visited reenactments in the past I’ve gotten to heft the muskets and chat with the people who carry them. Maybe it was just because the Waterloo anniversary was SUCH a big deal, but there wasn’t the same kind of approachability there.

As for the reenactment itself, it was a bit of a challenge to follow the action, even for someone like me who pretty much knows the course of the battle backwards and forwards. That said, it did give a good sense of how very smoky and confusing Napoleonic-era battlefields were:



And this was just 5000 reenactors out there for three hours or so. When you imagine what it must’ve been like 200 years before, when between the three armies involved there were almost 200,000 men engaged…whoa.

Even though the reenactment wasn’t everything I’d dreamed it would be, I’m glad I went. When I read or write about Waterloo from now on, I’ll have that much clearer a picture in my mind’s eye for having walked some of the ground and seen all those impeccably costumed reenactors. And, let’s face it, if it weren’t for Waterloo, the odds are I never would’ve gone to Belgium, and I would’ve missed out on that chocolate and those frites…

What about you? Have you traveled anywhere exciting this summer? And do you have travel tales of places that either exceeded or failed to live up to your expectations?

Next time I’ll post about our week in Paris (which exactly met our expectations–it really is that amazing). Expect lots of Napoleon…

Something broke in our infrastructure here a couple of days ago and the area where I live is now under a boil water alert. We have to boil any water we intend to use for cooking, handwashing dishes, drinking, or cleaning teeth (I’ve forgotten already a couple of times) for one minute, or use bottled water. It’s an annoyance but not impossible. No ice, though, unless I hunt down some ice trays, which I think I got rid of some time ago.

I can’t even compare it with Georgian London, which was a horrendously dirty city.

If I would drink water, I must quaff the mawkish contents of an open aqueduct, exposed to all manner of defilement, or swallow that which comes from the River Thames, impregnated with all the filth of London and Westminster.
Tobias Smollet, 1771.

water-seller cries After the hasty and inadequate rebuilding of London in the previous century following the Great Fire, the city grew and grew. The water available became undrinkable. The wealthy could afford to buy spring water from street sellers. For everyone else, gin was a cheap substitute that would quench both thirst and misery. It’s said that the widespread availability of tea in the mid nineteenth century saved lives, since water had to be boiled.

watersellerEven by the end of the nineteenth century London water was suspect. Here’s a water seller from 1900 in Cheapside.

It’s ironic when you consider that London was once a city of many rivers, some lost, and some like the River Fleet, now completely underground. fleet river st p 1825It went from being a healthy spring, making the suburb of Hampstead something of a spa resort, to an open sewer, to a river that is now almost completely invisible. But this print of the Fleet in the area of St. Pancras in 1825 shows how comparatively rural London was at this time, before the huge expansion of the Victorian age. If you want to know more, there’s a book which promises hours of fun, London’s Lost Rivers by Paul Talling. If you visit his website,, there’s a fascinating slideshow of photographs. More about the Fleet here.

Some other links:

London’s lost rivers: the hidden history of the city’s buried waterways

Secret London: Lost Rivers

In search of London’s lost rivers

and the London rivers action plan to restore the rivers.

There are walking tours of the lost rivers (and of the London sewers should you be so inclined. I wonder if Risky Diane has that on her itinerary?) Yet another thing to do in London. Is there something out of the ordinary you’d like to do or visit in London?

scharf-london-marketWhen you are in the middle of some current activity, do you ever stop and wonder about the Regency equivalent of what you are doing? I do. Maybe it’s just a sign of what a hopeless addict I am! Last month one of my most consuming activities was the annual yard sale conducted by my church. Regency people didn’t have “yard sales.” They could burn their trash and give the ashes to the dustman, and they could give their ruined clothing to the ragman, but what about the useable clothing, furniture, bric-abrac and household items that were no longer fashionable, or a little too worn, or just no longer wanted? What about closing the household of someone who died?

Our church sale was the biggest we’ve ever had, mostly thanks to the donation of tons of items from the home of a woman who had died during the summer. Have you ever had to clean out the home of a relative or friend? The very wealthy in the Regency made sure they had continuing generations of family to carry on, and often had large homes with attics or storerooms stuffed full of the furniture and belongings of the previous generations. Not everyone was so fortunate. Remember the scene from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol where the scavenging neighbors are hovering by old Scrooge’s deathbed just waiting to grab everything they could get?

People in the Regency, like those from other historical times, would be shocked by how wasteful we are today, even with the growing popularity (not to mention importance) of recycling. Life then demanded that people be practical and frugal, and nothing was wasted. Used goods, if not donated to charity, would be sold to the second-hand shops, pawn shops and street vendors, and might end up –like a giant yard sale–in the street markets, especially in London.

Street markets were and still are an essential and colorful part of London, like their rural counterparts. The city still offers plenty of them today, some dating back well before the Regency, although many more were established later, serving the needs of a growing city. The population of London was just under one million in 1800, and by the 1870s had tripled! All those people needed to be fed and clothed. In 2008 a London study counted 180 markets (including both goods and food markets), but the traditional pressures of changing neighborhoods and changing times are taking a toll, just as they have for centuries.

Some of the venerable old markets aren’t old enough to be Regency: Portobello Road Market (1860s), Berwick Market (1830’s), Inverness (1900). Other markets date all the way back to medieval times, such as the market at Romford (east of London) which was chartered in 1287, or the great wholesale food markets like Billingsgate (fish), and Smithfield (live cattle). Borough Market in Southwark is documented to 1276, but claims to have existed since 1014. Leadenhall (game & poultry) dates from 1445 with portions rebuilt in 1730, and Spitalfields (fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry, and also live songbirds during the Regency) was started in 1682. Covent Garden (fruit, vegetables, and flowers) was chartered in 1670. Brick Lane Market is also said to date from the 1600s, when it was a Sunday farmer’s market catering to the surrounding Jewish community. Leather Lane –near Hatton Garden –started when in the late 16th century(?) Sir Christopher Hatton asked permission for people to sell outside his gates, supposedly to recover funds for his gambling debts. A large Jewish community developed near there, with many who were merchants.

1746 Fleet Market Map (Roque)

1746 Fleet Market Map (Roque)

Petticoat Lane (Middlesex Street, near Bishopsgate Institute) began in the 1750’s. Church Street Market began as Portman Market off the New Road (c 1800), once people moved out into the area (which also brought the formation of the first bus service!!) Some of the markets that served the vendors and household servants in our period are gone: Fleet Market (1736–1829), Shepherd Market in Mayfair (1735-?) and others.

These markets took all sorts of forms, from open-air (mostly food markets) to enclosed buildings (such as Shepherd’s Market, with a theater on the second floor). The Fleet Market was described as two rows of open single-story shops linked by a covered walkway. These markets were the forerunners of our present day shopping malls!

As usual, when I dipped into this topic, I discovered it was huge. It’s hard to just brush the surface and stop. Please jump in and join the conversation in our comments section. Have you ever visited one of London’s street markets? Had to dispose of your family’s used goods? Had a character in a story go to one of these markets? Let’s talk!

Here are some links in case you want to look further:

2008 London survey of street markets

A list of street markets currently operating in London and environs, from Wikipedia

Four fascinating short video documentaries made about local street markets: Brixton (1870s), Portobello Road (1860s), Leather Lane (1710s), and Church Street (1801)

Ackermann images of Smithfield Market and Covent Garden 1811 (copyrighted by Museum of London):

Also, Mary Cathcart Borer’s book, An Illustrated Guide to London 1800, has an entire chapter about the markets, although it mostly covers the big food wholesale sites.

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