Yet again I have made a most delightfully serendipitous find in the course of my research. A lovely Regency-era guide-book which I think many Regency authors will find most helpful when they are seeking a setting for a new story, or perhaps planning a country excursion for their hero and heroine. In fact, the author of this book himself might very well serve as a model for a character in a Regency story.
When a Regency author needs a locale near the metropolis . . .
An excellent source of such information would be Picturesque Rides and Walks, with excursions by water, thirty miles round the British metropolis; Illustrated in a Series of Engravings colored after Nature: with an historical and topographical description of the country within the compass of that circle. This guide book was written and illustrated by John Hassell, a water color artist who had been writing travel guide books for various locations around England for many years. From May 1816 to May 1818, the contents of the book were issued monthly, in twenty-four parts. It would appear that sales of the parts were strong enough that Hassell felt he could move forward with publication of the entire book after the first year. Picturesque Rides and Walks was then published in two volumes. Volume I was published in 1817 and Volume II was published in 1818, in demi octavo format, with sixty plates planned for each volume. The printer was W. Flint, who had premises in the Old Bailey, London. Picturesque Rides and Walks was available from John Hassell’s premises at 27 Richard Street in Islington, as well as from most book sellers.
John Hassell had made all the drawings of the various places which he visited for the guide book. For most of his other guide books, he had also made engravings from all those drawings. However, it seems that he ran out of time to get the engravings completed for Picturesque Rides and Walks before it went to press. Therefore, he employed an engraver, D. Havell, to complete the remainder of the engravings from his drawings for the second volume. Even so, the planned sixty engravings per volume were not completed. There are sixty-two engravings in the first volume and fifty-five engravings in the second volume, most of which are hand-colored. The "directions for placing the cuts" which are found at the end of each volume do not exactly match the placement of the engravings in the book. However, an expert who has studied several extant copies of this book has come to the conclusion that some of the "missing" plates were never included when it was published.
John Hassell was born in 1767, and by the time he was twenty-two, in 1789, he was exhibiting landscape drawings and watercolors at the Royal Academy. Hassell had a large practice as a drawing-master, watercolor painter and engraver, but he found a way to further supplement his income by drawing views of local scenic locations which he engraved, usually as aquatints, then he sold them for publication in various books on topography. He seems to have moved on from that to writing and illustrating his own travel guide books. Apparently, Hassell liked to travel, since it is clear that he personally visited all of the places about which he wrote and made drawings for his books. However, he did limit his travels to places in Britain. In all of his travel books, Hassell focused on the scenery and points of interest in the areas through which he traveled. His travel guides are always well-illustrated, but none of them include maps.
Travel guide books were not the only publications produced by John Hassell. He published a biography of his friend, the artist, George Moreland, who had died in October of 1804. He also wrote and published books and magazine articles on various aspects of art, including drawing, painting and etching. Hassell sold copies of his books from his studio, as well as through many book sellers, which would have provided him with a tidy supplement to his income as a drawing master. Little is known of John Hassell’s family, though it does seem that he had one, since his son, Edward, went on to become a watercolor painter and a member of the Royal Academy, like his father. John Hassell was working and publishing travel guide books right through the Regency. He died in 1825.
Picturesque Rides and Walks was dedicated, in quite fawning terms, to the Price Regent. In the Preface, Hassell explained that he was publishing this new guide book because the area in the vicinity of London had more picturesque locales than anywhere else in the British Isles. He felt that those living in or visiting the metropolis were unaware of all the sublime beauties so close at hand. He wrote:
. . . In short, within a radius of thirty miles is to be found almost everything that can embellish or give zest to society: that can indulge the most sanguine expectations of the amateur; gratify the meditative passion of the antiquarian; repay the most inquisitive researches of the botanist; amuse the peripatetic, or add to the enjoyments of the man of pleasure.
Hassell intended Picturesque Rides and Walks to become "a faithful guide" to a thirty-mile circumference around London which would "point out its beauties, to conduct to its delicious retreats," both city residents and visitors alike.
The first volume of Picturesque Rides and Walks contains the bulk of the "rides and walks," while the second volume contains most of the "excursions by water," of the title. The majority of the locations which Hassell covers in the first volume can be reached by horseback, carriage or stage coach. For each town and village, Hassell notes each point of interest, including historical background for many of the landmarks, as well as descriptions. In particular, he regularly included a list of the great estates in each area, as well as the name of their owners. Since the manor houses on these estates are often open to the public, when he was able to gain admittance, Hassell included details on the interior of the house, as well as the beauties of the gardens and parklands which surround it. For those estates which had garden follies and other interesting architectural features, Hassell described them and, in several cases, provided charming illustrations of them.
For the towns and villages which are covered in the guide book, Hassell provided quite a lot of pertinent local information. He usually included the name of the local church and its rector, along with any historical anecdotes about the church and its parishioners. Descriptions of the interior of each church are provided, including any important stained glass windows, any monuments and significant inscriptions that might be there, along with a list of important people who were buried in the crypt or churchyard. But the church was not the only point of interest on which Hassell provided details. Though he did not include any maps in his guide book, he did list the names of the main streets in each village or town and the names of the schools, hospitals or almshouses, if the town had them. More importantly for Regency authors, not only did Hassell list the principal inns or posting houses in each village or town, he noted from which inn or coaching house in London one could catch a coach to the village, and the price of the fare, both for inside and outside the coach. He even included the times the coaches left London for each village or town, as well as times for the return trip to London. For those towns or villages which had fairs, Hassell provided the dates, and a brief description of each fair. He also included information on any special celebrations which were held in the area.
Within and between each village and town Hassell noted any pleasant walks or rides which might be enjoyed. In fact, there were some walks in the guide book by which a traveler could progress from one village to another by foot or horse, along scenic pathways. At the end of many sections of the guide can be found tables which show the distances in English miles between the villages and towns in the area. But walking and riding or driving were not the only sports with which Hassell concerned himself. He also provided details on the various kinds of sport which were practiced in each area, including fishing, coursing, shooting, hunting, horse racing and the occasional boxing match, among others. He even explains the meaning and origin of the term "chase" used for certain properties related to hunting. However, Hassell did not ignore industry, and makes mention of many of the commercial activities which are conducted in the areas through which he passed while compiling his guide book.
In the second volume of Picturesque Rides and Walks, excursions by water, many by the Thames River, comprise the majority of the trips which are described by Hassell. Several iconic locations are included in this volume, from Hyde Park to Kew Gardens to Windsor Castle. Hassell went into great detail with descriptions for each of these places, just as he did with Hampton Court Palace in the first volume. Claremont, the home of Prince Leopold and the just deceased Princess Charlotte is also included in this volume, with two water color illustrations of the house and grounds. Another important venue for stories set in the Regency, Richmond Park is described in detail in volume two, as well as information about its history and the various entertainments which could be enjoyed there. Many of the excursions in volume one could be accomplished as day trips, while volume two included several week-long tours through areas along the Thames.
A most charming feature of the second volume is the "Table of the Weather." This table was provided to assist travelers seeking "periods of favourable weather for excursions or amusement." According to Hassell, "it is grounded upon a philosophical consideration of the attraction of the sun and moon in their several positions respecting the earth." Comments that accompany the table suggest that most of the weather is governed by the moon. Modern-day meteorologists would find the table a great joke, but at least some of those during the Regency may have used this table to plan their holiday travel. Regency authors might find a number of uses for this weather table.
Both volumes include many etchings of the drawings and water color paintings made by John Hassell during his perambulations through the areas described in the guide book. Most of these illustrations have been hand colored, there are only a few in grey tones. Each volume has an index, making it very easy to find the information on a specific location. The lack of any maps in this guide book is not a particular handicap. Since the guide book covers an area within a thirty-mile radius of London, most of these locations are now suburbs of the enormous metropolis and can be found on any map of the greater London area.
This guide book was clearly written for the educated traveler, as it includes quite a lot of history about the places described, as well as a number of Latin inscriptions and verses. It seems to have appealed to an affluent and upper-class audience. One copy which survives has decorative leather bindings tooled with gilt ornamentation, including the cypher of the Earl of Essex surmounted by a coronet at the top of the spine. Another copy has the book plate of Viscount Birkenhead inside the front cover of each volume. Though original copies of this guide book are quite rare today, they were readily available at most booksellers in parts from the year 1816 and as bound volumes in 1817 and 1818. To see a slide show of photos of an original bound edition of Picturesque Rides and Walks in the collection of Mr. S. P. Lohia, click here.
Original editions of this two-volume guide book in good condition can run from $4,000 to $5,000. Fortunately for Regency authors on a tight book budget, both volumes of this charming guide book can be found in digital format at Google Books:
With this actual Regency-era guide book in your research library, Dear Regency Author, you might have your hero and heroine take tea at the Eel-pie House in Hornsey, which was a popular tea-house. Or, perhaps they will have a picnic under the ancient Fairlop Oak in the great Hainault Forest. The descriptions and illustrations of villages, towns and gentlemen’s estates will be quite useful in creating a description of an estate in a Regency story, or, the real names of estate owners in an area can be given as the neighbors for a fictional estate in that area. Without doubt, John Hassell’s guide book will be a wonderful source of information when you are in need of a rural location near Regency London.