The early 19th century was a very productive time for publishers of guides for the use of travellers who were discovering the joys of traveling in England and Wales. The restrictions on travel because of the wars with France meant that the domestic market was their only possible stamping ground..
As you know I love these types of books and thought that you may like to see some of the guides to London that someone like the Steele sisters might use to plot their next move from Bartletts Buildings…dreaming of the fashionable West and all its elegance, compared with the bustle of the city….
If they wanted to learn more of the historical background to London and its landmarks then they might refer to a set of publications like The Beauties of England and Wales by Edward Braylake Brayley and John Britton.
I wrote about the Middlesex volumes here (they contain of course all details of London for in the ealry 19th century London was to be found in the county of Middlesex). While they are not Guide Books per se, they do contain very interesting historical information about London and its main buildings.
But if the Steele sisters and their ilk wanted to know a little more about the workings of London’s sights, so as not to appear totally ignorant and so very obviously newly up from the country, then they needed a different sort of guide. One of my favourites is The Picture of London.
This was first issued in 1802 and the last was published in 1818.
They are very detailed guides of want to see and do when in London.They give fantastically detailed information, so that the traveller who was new to London would not feel awkward or idiotic. This extract below, for example ,is the information the Picture of London(1802) gives for Astley’s Amphitheatre in Bridge Street near Westminster Bridge:
This Theatre is situated in the Westminster-road near the bridge, and is built on the very ground on which Mr. Astley, sen. formerly exhibited feats of horsemanship and other amusements in the open air; the success and profits of which enabled him afterwards to extend his plan and erect a building, which, from the rural cast of the internal decorations he called the ROYAL GROVE.
In this theatric structure, stage exhibitions were given, while, in a circular area, similar to that in the present theatre, horsemanship, and other feats of strength and agility, were continued. About seven or eight years ago, it was accidentally burnt down, after which the present theatre was erected under the appellation of the AMPITHEATRE of ARTS.
The interior of the building, though for a summer theatre somewhat heavy in its style, has been rendered truly elegant by its late additional decorations; and the stage and scenery are also greatly improved. The horsemanship, for which a circular ride is provided, is still continued, though it forms a much smaller portion of the evening’s entertainment than formerly.
This theatre always opens on Easter Monday; and its amusements continue till October or November. There are two tiers of boxes, a pit, and gallery.
The prices of admission are four shillings, two shillings, and one shilling. The doors open at half past five, and the performances begin at half past six.
It really does contain everything you really needed to know, don’t you think?
These books were illustrated with engravings of the buildings they described.The early editions with full-page illustration of a single buildings, then the later versions, as in this plate from The Picture of London for 1810 tried to illustrate at least four buildings on one page, landscape form:
The last edition, of 1818, further simplified this by having four illustrations on one page all executed in a similar style,but placed them so that the book did not have to be turned to appreciate them:
These guides were all pocket-sized , 3 inches by 5 inches approximately, and could easily be carried around. They also included maps of London and sometimes of its environs, which folded out for ease of reference:
This is the map of London that was used in edition of The Picture of London from 1803 onwards.
One of the interesting things to note about these guides is that not much is known about the people who write and published them. The author of the Picture of London was John Feltham and try as I might I’ve not found any meaningful information about him. I fear he may have been one of a number of hack writer that the publishers employed to write copy. And indeed such was the nature of their work that not many of them used their own name, preferring pseudonyms.
The publisher of these books, Richard Phillips is a slightly different matter. There is a little more information available about him, and his life makes for interesting reading. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography actually has an entry for him and his early life was common place enough:
….the son of a Leicestershire farmer, was born in London; his name at birth may have been Philip Richards. He was sent to schools in Soho Square and at Chiswick by his uncle, a brewer in Oxford Street, but his home surroundings were distasteful to him, and in 1786 he started on his own account as usher in a school at Chester. In 1788 he moved to Leicester, where he invested his small means in a commercial academy in Bond Street. A year later he opened a hosier’s shop, which he stocked with borrowed capital; but it was not until the summer of 1790, when he commenced business as a stationer, bookseller, and patent medicine vendor, that he found his proper vocation. He soon added a printing press, and, when his already heterogeneous business began to prosper, he expanded by selling pianofortes, music, caricatures, and prints, and running a circulating library.
He held somewhat unorthodox views on most subjects. For example, he really did believe that Newtons theory on gravity was idiotic. He was a radical and held strong republican political views and even served 18 months in Leicester gaol for publishing a copy of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. For such a radical it is surprising to realise that he was knighted. This event occurred in 1808 rather in the manner I have always thought Sir William Lucas received his knighthood from the King:
At midsummer 1807 Phillips was elected a sheriff of London, and as the bearer of an address from the corporation to George III, he was knighted by the king on 30 March 1808. During his shrievalty Phillips established the sheriff’s fund for the relief of poor debtors, and placed the sponging-houses under better regulations. In this capacity he wrote and published A Letter to the Livery of London Relative to the Duties and Office of Sheriff (1808), and A Treatise on the Powers and Duties of Juries, and on the Criminal Laws of England (1811).
)(Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online version )
I do wonder if George III had a liking for people who were as eccentric as himself…?
Another London guide writer I can find no information about is David Hughson, Doctor of Law. He is sometimes referred to as David Pugh. It’s all very mysterious. In any event, his books are fabulously detailed and very worthwhile obtaining. One of the most useful for people visiting London was his two-volume work, Walks through London, a larger format series of books than The Picture of London.
This is a series of walks, each illustrated by a detailed map, as below of the area around the Tower of London (and please do remember you can enlarge these illustrations by clicking on them)
These maps were supplemented by individual plates of interesting or notable buildings, as in this one of Fishmongers Hall
For the traveller interested in the then countryside around London, Hughson also produced a series of books from 1805-1819 London being an accurate History and Description of the British Metropolis and its Neighbourhood to Thirty Miles Extant
This was a part work, issued gradually and eventually it comprised six volumes, copiously illustrated with single plates, as in this one, below, of Carlton House ,the London home of the Prince of Wales.
The engravings in these books are fabulous, very detailed and are by far my favourites of this type. Each includes a vignette of life in early 19th century London, and they have a charm not many other engravings possess. Such a pity I cannot find out anything about Dr Hughson..if indeed that was his real name.