Today Oxford Street in the West End of London is a busy shopping destination. In the Georgian era, it was much different, but still, those who had sufficient coin could find a lot of things to buy, even in the 18th century. In my latest Georgian romance, To Tame the Wind, the prequel to the Agents of the Crown trilogy, Oxford Street is where Lady Danvers takes the heroine, Claire Donet, when they go shopping in 1782.
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 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 pastime of the upper classes, things were better.
Sophie de la Roche, a German visitor to London in 1786, thought the houses in London were not so splendid as those in Paris, but she raved about the shops 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.
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 bay windows, seen in many of London’s shops today.
Lady Danvers and Claire visit a modiste to order some gowns for Claire, but then they need to purchase accessories: a parasol, reticule, shoes and underthings. And that does doesn’t even include the sweet treats they stop for on the way home. No wonder they were exhausted! Still, they managed to talk about Capt. Simon Powell, that intriguing ship captain, privateer and spy for the Crown. Sigh.
Aiding their shopping adventure were the shop signs. 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, of course, making noise as they creaked in the wind and sometimes falling onto those shopping. In 1766, the signs were removed and to replace them and to tell shoppers what good were being offered, some shops displayed symbols of their trade, like the barber’s pole, the grocer’s sugar loaf, the golden arm holding a mallet (the sign of the goldsmith). Others put up their names and occupations on signs above their shops. Hence, Mrs. Duval the modiste in my novel (and an actual modiste of the time), though located on Bond Street, featured an 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.
As you can see, some things never change.
Excerpt for To Tame the Wind by Regan Walker
The door of the carriage swung open, a gown was tossed into her lap and a broad shouldered man filled the opening.
Claire’s jaw went slack while her heart kicked into a gallop as if responding of its own accord to the first man to stir it from slumber.
“Bonjour, Mademoiselle Donet,” he said in French. “Captain Simon Powell.” He bowed in grand gesture. “Your humble servant with something for you to wear.”
The golden one. It had been nearly two years since she had seen him, but she had never forgotten the night of the masquerade. She had never forgotten him. Though the linen shirt stretched tight across his broad chest and the leather breeches and boots he wore now were a far cry from the shimmering costume he’d worn then, his amber eyes were the same. Impossibly, he was even more handsome that in her faded memory. In the last two years, he had never been far from her thoughts, for the night she’d first seen him—and imagined a man’s pleasure—was the night Claire’s girlish dreams had ended forever.
And now he’d returned to France and abducted her.
He leaned into the carriage and untied her feet, then her wrists. The touch of his rough man’s hands on her skin sent odd chills rippling through her. She bit her lip, shamed by her body’s reaction to this stranger. Her living temptation turned away for a moment, then faced her, a cup in his outstretched hand. “’Tis only water,” he said when she was reluctant to take it.
Too grateful to complain, she hastily brought the fresh water to her dry lips and drank her fill.
“I’ll give you some time to dress,” he said not unkindly. His eyes shifted to her blanket-covered nightclothes. “I wouldn’t want my men to see you as you are.”
Claire felt her cheeks burn at the thought.
“The gown is modest enough to please even your nuns,” he said. “Call me if you need… ah, assistance. I will be just outside.”
She fumed at his insolence, at his actions that had placed her at his mercy. Though she knew he was English and a privateer, she had no idea why he had taken her, and she would wait no longer to learn the truth of it. “Why did you bring me here? Why did you take me from the convent?”
Leaning one arm against the frame of the carriage, he regarded her intently, his eyes like chips of amber.
“You have your father to thank for that, mademoiselle. As soon as he returns what is mine you will have your freedom.”
Claire blinked. “My father?” Her voice sounded to her like the pleading of a feeble schoolgirl. She would not be cowed! She lifted her chin, confident in his error. “What has he to do with this… this perfidy? Papa is a man of business and letters, a man of some wealth. He has no need to steal!”
His mouth twitched up in a grin, drawing Claire’s gaze to his sensual lips, reminding her of a night when she had seen him use those lips to good effect. She scowled, angry with the rogue and with herself for finding him so attractive.
He shut the door of the carriage and peered in through the open window. “Your father, mademoiselle, is a pirate.”
TO TAME THE WIND
Copyright © 2015 Regan Walker
ABOUT REGAN WALKER
Regan Walker is a #1 bestselling, multi-published author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romance. She has three times been featured on USA TODAY’s HEA blog and twice nominated for the prestigious RONE award (her novel, The Red Wolf’s Prize won Best Historical Novel for 2015 in the medieval category). Regan writes historically authentic novels with real history and real historic figures where her readers can experience history, adventure and love. You can see the trailers for her novels on her website. Regan loves to hear from her readers–you can also email her via her website.
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