The Picture of London

"You can’t think I’m going to totter all over London looking at a lot of buildings I don’t want to see! Very happy to take you driving in the Park, but that’s coming it too strong, my dear girl!   … Besides, I don’t know anything about these curst places you want to see! Couldn’t tell you anything about ’em!"

     — Mr. Freddy Standen to Miss Kitty Charing

"Oh, but that need not signify! Look, I purchased this book in Hatchard’s shop this morning, and it tells one everything! It is called The Picture of London, and it says here that it is a correct guide to all the Curiosities, Amusements, Exhibitions, Public Establishments, and Remarkable Objects in and near London, made for the use of Strangers, Foreigners, and all Persons who are not intimately acquainted with the Metropolis!"

     — Miss Kitty Charing to Mr. Freddy Standen

Dialog from Chapter 9 of Cotillion by Georgette Heyer.

I re-read Cotillion recently, many years since I last read it in high school. This passage caught my eye this time around, because I now know how thoroughly Heyer researched her novels. Did she invent the guidebook which Kitty purchased for her London adventure? Hatchard’s was a real bookshop in Regency London. Was The Picture of London a real guidebook of the city?

A little Googling revealed that it was indeed a real guidebook. In fact, The Picture of London has a rather curious history. The first edition, for the year 1803, was published late in 1802, by Sir Richard Phillips. He was a well-known figure on the literary scene in Regency London. He commissioned work from a great many authors for his Monthly Magazine. By 1796, he was expanding his publishing empire, which would eventually include a wide range of textbooks and other educational materials. He had also recognized the need for pocket-sized compendia of useful knowlege, including guidebooks. Sir Richard also had a reputation as a cunning and hardheaded businessman. He was known to employ a stable of hack writers to churn out a substantial portion of the material he published. It is quite likely that some of those anonymous writers composed the variaous sections of The Picture of London.

The first edtion, The Picture of London for 1803 was 420 pages and 16 mo or approximately 5 3/4 by 4 1/2 inches. It contained a half dozen engravings of noted points of interest in the city and two fold-out maps of London and its environs. Though it was criticized for a number of errors in the antiquarian and historical sections and for a somewhat inflated and declamatory style, it was still considered a most useful volume as a " … Guide to All the Curiosities, Amusements, Exhibitions, Public Establishments, and Remarkable Objects, in and Near London"

About 1814, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown took over publishing The Picture of London. They continued to publish it into the mid-1830’s. Curiously, Samuel Leigh, a bookseller on the Strand, published A New Picture of London for the first time in 1818, perhaps to capitalize on the success of its namesake? This competing guidebook continued to be published by Leigh and Sons well into the 1830’s. It would appear that is the reason that Longman began to title their guidebook The Original Picture of London by the early 1820’s. Other London guidebooks popped up occasionally through the Regency and early Victorian eras, with the title Picture of London, all of which serve to muddy the waters of this guidebook’s history.

Googling "The Picture of London" serendipitously revealed another salient fact. There are still a number of editions of this Regency London guidebook available on various used-book web sites. Naturally, those in the best condition are also the most expensive. Since I had learned of the The Picture of London while reading Cotillion, I wanted the same edition which Kitty had purchased from Hatchard’s. Georgette Heyer never dates her novels, she expects the reader to identify the year based on the current events noted in the story. In Cotillion, the Battle of Waterloo had taken place "last year" and the Elgin Marbles were still at Burlington House. So, the story was set in the year 1816, and I knew that was the edition of The Picture of London which I wanted.

After some searching, I found a copy of The Picture of London for the year 1816. It was in my price range, but only because it has had a hard life. The two fold-out maps were missing, the binding was heavily worn and chipped, the spine was cracked, and though the text block was intact, it was darkened by age with some foxing (no, it was not inebriated). But it was still in its original binding of brown leather with the title in gilt lettering on the front cover and with faux gilt banding on the spine. All of the engravings were still there, as well as the fold-out plans of sites such as Westminster and the East India Docks. This seventeenth edition has 340 pages, but is the same size as the 1803 edition, 16 mo, or approximately 5 3/4 by 4 1/2 inches. It was printed in London for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster Row. And was " Sold by All Booksellers; And at the Bars of all the principal Inns and Coffee-houses."

This compact little volume is a wealth of information about the City of London in 1816. It has chapters on the general history of London, a general description of the city, public buildings, institutions of art and science, courts and commercial buildings, places of public amusement, even chapters on hospitals and prisons. There are several tables scattered throughout the text which provide statistics such as population numbers for the various districts of the city, the numbers of cattle and sheep consumed by the residents of the city over previous years, the number of barrels of porter brewed by the major London brewing houses, and schedules for two-penny post deliveries for both the city and the country. There are also tables for Watermen’s rates on the Thames and Hackney Coach fares.

The "Monthly List of London Amusements" lists all of the important events which take place in the city each month. But that is just one of many lists in The Picture of London. Below is a list of the lists in this guidebook:

  • The Present Companies and Their Halls
  • The Lords Mayor & Sheriffs
  • The Principal Tea Gardens
  • Receiving Houses for General & Penny Posts
  • Mail Coaches with Departure Points
  • Dispensaries in the Metropolis
  • English, Medical, Law and French Booksellers
  • Circulating Libraries
  • Reviews and Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Principal Streets & Squares
  • Principal Offices & Societies
  • Prisons
  • Inns of Courts
  • Charities
  • Places of Amusements and Exhibitions
  • Churches and Chapels
  • Principal Hotels, Taverns and Coffee-Houses
  • Public Baths
  • Inns
  • Bankers
  • Villages and Towns Near London

Bound into the back of the book are a few pages of "Modern Publications and New Editions of Valuable Standard Works printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster Row" It is essentially an advertisement for the publisher to make the readers of The Picture of London aware of their other titles. Here is a sampling of some of the books listed in these pages:

A COLLECTION of FARCES and other AFTER-PIECES, which are acted at the Theatres Royal Drury-lane, Covent-garden, and Haymarket. Selected by Mrs. Inchbald. 7 vols. royal 18mo.

TRAVELS to the SOURCE of the MISSOURI RIVER and Across the American Continent to the Pacific Ocean. By CAPTAINS LEWIS and CLARK. Published from the Official Report, and illustrated by a Map of the Route, and other Maps. In one vol. 4to.

A VISIT to PARIS in 1814. Being a Review of the Moral, , Political, Intellectual, and Social Condition of the French Capital: including Observations on the Public Buildings, and the Monuments of Art which it contains –and Remarks on the Effects of these great Works and the Institutions of Paris on the national Taste and Thinking–Observations on the Manners of the various Classes of its Society–on its Political Conduct and Opinions, and on the general State of its Information and Attainments in Literature. By the Hon. RICHARD BOYLE BERNARD, M.P. In one vol. 8vo.

THE HISTORY of the LIVES and ACTIONS of the most famous HIGHWAYMEN, STREET ROBBERS, &c. &c. To which is added a Genuine Account of the VOYAGES and PLUNDERS of the most noted PIRATES. By CAPTAIN CHARLES JOHNSON. New Edition. In 8vo.

ROSE and EMILY; or, Sketches of Youth. By Mrs. ROBERTS, Author of Moral Views; or the Telescope for Children. 2nd Edition. In 12mo.

THE NEW PANTHEON; or, an Introduction to the Mythology of the Ancients, in Question and Answer. Compiled principally for the Use of Females. By W. JILLARD HORT. The 4th Edition with Plates. "The new Pantheon is scrupulously delicate; it is also well arranged, and well written." Eclec. Rev.   "It would be unjust not to recommend this work as an elegant and useful companion to young persons of both sexes." Gent. Mag.

THE LADY of the LAKE. A Poem. In Six Cantos. By WALTER SCOTT, Esq. The 10th Edition. In 8vo.

THE LAY of the LAST MINSTREL. A Poem, with Ballads and Lyrical Pieces. By WALTER SCOTT, Esq. The 13th Edition. In 8vo.

THE WHITE DOE of RYLSTONE; or The FATE of the NORTONS, a Poem. By William Wordsworth. In one vol. 4to.

The RECLUSE of NORWAY. By Miss ANNA MARIA PORTER. In 4 vols. 12mo.

SELF-CONTROL. A Novel. The 4th Edition. In 3 vols. 12mo.  "We ascribe great merit to this novel. Some of Laura’s maxims deserve to become universal aphorisms, and the examples of her self-denial are told in a plain unaffected way."   Mon. Rev.

SKETCHES of CHARACTER; or, Specimens of Real Life. A Novel. In 3 vols. 12mo. "The novel is a very splendid and natural performance; the dialogues and conversations are given with much freedom and elegance; and the characters in general are excessively well designed and executed." Crit. Rev. Sept. 1808.

THE VILLA GARDEN DIRECTORY; or, Monthly Index of Work to be done in Town and Villa Gardens, Parterres, &c. with Hints on the Treatment of Plants and Flowers kept in the Green Room, the Lobby, and the Drawing Room. By WALTER NICOL.

ESSAYS, MORAL and ENTERTAINING, on the various Faculties and Passions of the Human Mind. By the RIGHT HONOURABLE EDWARD, EARL of CLARENDON. In 2 vols. foolscap 8vo.

A SECLECTION of CUROUS ARTICLES from the GENTLEMEN’S MAGAZINE. The 4th Edition. In 4 large vol. 8vo.

This brief listing of the books published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown for 1816, reveals a glimpse of the wide range of subject matter available to readers in Regency London. It is quite likely that these titles were stocked on the shelves of Hatchard’s bookshop on the day that Miss Kitty Charing purchased her copy of The Picture of London.

I am delighted with my copy of The Picture of London of 1816. It is a detailed snapshot of the social and cultural life of London and environs at the height of the Regency. I am most grateful to Georgette Heyer for bringing this fascinating volume to my attention.

About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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