Fiction The Highwayman

The Highwayman’s Quarry – Architecture

Writing fiction set in the late eighteenth century, it’s easy to imagine every building falling into the Georgian period of architecture, something like this image of the Crown and Anchor:

Crown and Anchor
London’s Crown and Anchor Tavern, haunt of many a radical and reformer.

But these were just the most recent buildings that were replacing structures built during earlier periods. It was probably much as it is today, the upper middle class and wealthy living in new construction (say in Portman or Berkeley squares) while the lower middle classes, the poor, and the working classes made do in the older parts of town.

I’m working on a story set in London in 1795 featuring my highwayman, Robin Cantwell, and so I’ve been exploring in more detail what the place actually looked like. Here, for an example of a blend of architectural styles (and people), is a c. 1795 watercolor by Thomas Girtin of a neighborhood around St. Paul’s Cathedral. Not a Georgian building in sight. (Hat tip to my writing pal, Jacqui Reiter, for drawing my attention to this painter and this scene.)

Painting of St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral from St. Martin’s-le-Grand, by Thomas Girtin. (Image from The Met Museum.)

Older buildings would have had to survive the Great Fire of 1666, and a lot of the survivors were pulled down in the late 18th century. Fortunately, the artist John Thomas Smith set about preserving a record of these buildings before they could be destroyed, and the wonderful has posted a whole series of them. The detail of the drawings is extraordinary, providing a fount of inspiration for this writer.

Houses on the Corner of Chancery Lane & Fleet St – Drawn August 1789, Taken Down May 1799.
Houses on the Corner of Chancery Lane & Fleet St – Drawn August 1789, Taken Down May 1799.

Click on the image, then click again to see the full detail. Many more from this series are here. Enjoy!

(Oh, and props to anyone who can identify those wing-shaped things hanging around the doorway and eaves. Corsets? Have they been laundered and hung out to dry? Were corsets even laundered? Or maybe they’re for sale?)

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