Monday, 20 November 2017

Historical Fantasy 24 Hours - Georgian London

I asked a group of talented writers and historians to imagine their 'Fantasy Twenty-Four Hours.' I placed no restrictions on time period, place, or format, save that they must go back in time. 

This month it's the turn of author and historian Catherine Curzon, who takes us back to eighteenth-century London...


What would be my fantasy day? 


Well, since writing became my full time job, I’m fortunate enough to say that I’ve had plenty of days like that. Whether it’s going into the National Portrait Gallery and seeing my books there on the shelf or sharing a stage with Adrian Lukis, an actor I’ve admired for decades who I can now call a friend and colleague, I get to make my dreams come true more often than I ever thought I might.

As a historian of the Georgian era with a speciality in Georgian royalty, it’s not going to be a surprise to learn that I’d life out my fantasy 24 hours in London. I'm going to be a little woolly on the exact year, but somewhere in the early 1780s would do nicely. Let’s say 1782, just to give Mrs Robinson time to get really annoyed at the Prince of Wales, and to give Mrs Siddons time to get settled back into the London theatre scene.

Mrs (Sarah) Siddons

What might surprise those who know me well, however, is that I’ve got no intention of going digging about the palaces of George III and his family. George’s court was built on strict protocol and wasn’t exactly renowned for being a rip-roaring and entertaining way to spend a day. So, since I’ve got just 24 hours to live out my fantasy, am I going on a breathtaking, whirlwind tour of the sights of Georgian London?

Not a chance of it, because I’m going to spend them sitting around and drinking tea.

The trick to sitting around and drinking tea, as anyone who does it often will tell you, is who you do it with, and I won’t be drinking tea alone.

I’d like to start the day with a stroll through the streets of London alone, soaking up the sights, sounds and of course the smells of the world into which I’ve been happily plunged. I want to walk beside the Thames and potter about Hyde Park and just watch, experiencing that lost land in which I spend so much of my creative time. I’ll gaze into print shop windows and peek into coffeehouses, hear the cries of the street traders and potter along quite happily, unremarkable in the sort of unshowy frock that lets you pass unnoticed as part of the Georgian crowd. It doesn’t do to stand out when you’re pretending to be one of the locals, after all!

A lady cannot live on sightseeing alone though, and that’s where the sitting around and drinking tea comes in.

After my morning of strolling, I’ll head up to Strawberry Hill for lunch and an afternoon in the company of that glorious Georgian, Horace Walpole. Walpole is probably my absolute favourite Georgian and a few hours in his company will be worth a year in the city, because he knew everything about everyone. An inveterate gossip, taleteller and wit, what Walpole didn’t know about 18th century movers and shakers wasn’t worth knowing and I can’t think of a better fellow to spend an afternoon with. 

Horace Walpole

After a leisurely lunch, Horace and I will be joined by Mary Darby Robinson and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and, with the tea still flowing, we’ll while away an afternoon. Happily, with three Whigs together, political arguments - always a mainstay of Georgian society - might just about be kept to a minimum!

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

There’s nothing I love more than tea, theatre and Georgians, so this would be an absolute dream come true. Between them this trio had an intimate knowledge (literally in Mary’s case) of the House of Hanover and the world of Georgian theatre and in my dream world, they’d be more than happy to share it!

Mary Robinson

We’d wander Strawberry Hill with Walpole as an enthusiastic guide, learning about this dreamy Gothic palace from the man who created it. Then, as the evening began to draw on, where better to end the day that at the theatre? A little trip to Drury Lane would be in order, I think, to fulfil the dream of everybody who loves there and the 18th century - the chance to see the legendary Sarah Siddons in action.

It was Sheridan who brought Mrs Siddons back to London after her disastrous earlier appearance alongside Garrick, and her appearance at Drury Lane in Fatal Marriage in 1782 launched her into the stratosphere, so to see her perform with Sheridan in the seat beside me in the company of Sheridan would be utterly epic!

Going round after a performance is always fun so we’d join the divine Mrs S after the show for a drink or two and that would, I think, crown the perfect day. I would come home to the 21st century feeling very happy indeed!

So, I’ve got nothing in my diary for the next couple of days and I’m raring to go - when do we leave for 1782?


Catherine Curzon is a royal historian. She is the author of Life in the Georgian Court, Kings of Georgian Britain, and Queens of Georgian Britain

Her work has been featured on, the official website of BBC History Magazine and in publications such as Explore History, All About History, History of Royals and Jane Austen’s Regency World . She has appeared with An Evening with Jane Austen at venues including Kenwood House and Godmersham Park and has spoken at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, Lichfield Guildhall, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and Dr Johnson’s House, among others.

An Evening with Jane Austen - Cast Photo

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, writes fiction set deep in the underbelly of Georgian London. Her novels, The Crown Spire, The Star of Versailles, and The Mistress of Blackstairs, are available now.

She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

[All illustrations in the Public Domain. Photo supplied by the author]