One Sunday in the summer of 2009 I stood on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and listened as the bells called to worshippers and tourists alike. People loitered chatting, or climbed the steps and went inside. I imagined this clamour was almost exactly the same as it had been three centuries ago. I recorded it on my telephone and walked home.
For years I had dragged my husband to churchyards, houses, demolition sites, public monuments and hidden memorials, telling him the stories of people long dead: cabinet-makers, slaves, domestic servants, weavers, chimney-sweeps and prostitutes. Back at home I played him the recording, my precious moment of shared experience with Londoners of the past. His dry recommendation was to start blogging the tales I had accumulated and what I believed about Georgian London, perhaps hoping to deflect my endless enthusiasm onto the miasma of the world wide web. The blog gained instant traction as it explored relationships, crime, literature, disability, personal hygiene, jobs, sexuality, charity, sport and shopping. This book is sprung from its loins, a tribute to the people of the eighteenth century city and testimony to the eternal feeling that if I could just run fast enough through London’s endless archives I will catch them, grasp their coat tails and make them tell me everything about being a Georgian Londoner.
My lovely team at Penguin have run with me on this journey, and this is what they have to say about the book: ‘All aboard for a tour of London’s most formative age – the age of love, sex, intellect, art, great ambition and fantastic ruin. Travel back to the Georgian years, a time that changed life expectancy and the expectation of what life could be. Peek into the gilded drawing rooms of the aristocracy, walk down the quiet avenues of the new middle class, and crouch in the damp doorways of the poor. But watch your wallet – tourists make perfect prey for the thriving community of hawkers, prostitutes and scavengers. Visit, if you dare, the madhouses of Hackney, the workshops of Soho and the mean streets of St Giles’s. Have a coffee in the city, check the stock exchange, and pop into St Paul’s to see progress on the new dome. This book is about the Georgians who called London their home, from dukes and artists to rent boys and hot air balloonists meeting dog-nappers and life-models along the way. It investigates the legacies they left us in architecture and art, science and society, and shows the making of the capital millions know and love today’.
Georgian London isn’t out until later in 2013, but I am caught up in the excitement! We are finalising covers, pictures and publicity. Please do put your name down for a copy and when the books arrives, I very much hope you enjoy it.
Lucy Inglis is a historian based in London. She lives within the sound of St Paul’s cathedral with her husband and a Border terrier.