I’ve spent many happy hours looking for Mr. Darcy’s London home. Admittedly it’s much more fun to do it for real and on foot. While far more convenient, Google Street makes me a little dizzy.
As I kept searching, many gorgeous-looking residences caught my eye, but I was always drawn to the same place: Berkeley Square. It looks very fashionable on contemporary maps, and it has a lot going for it. The location, the layout, the two neighbouring great houses – and of course the plane trees.
There are several towering plane trees in the square, and they’ve been around since 1789. What an amazing feeling, to know that the same trees used to shade the ladies and gentlemen who came to eat ices at Gunter’s!
My first trip to Berkeley Square was in my imagination, with the 1802 Fairburn map and the London Encyclopaedia.
The first real trip, on foot, was somewhat of a disappointment. I knew, for instance, that Devonshire House, which used to close the southeast end of the square, had been long demolished. What I didn’t know was that in its place now stands a spectacularly featureless building.
It came as just as much of a surprise to learn that the house where Her Majesty was born was just around the corner, and it had not survived either.
No WWII raids, just the fickle finger of time. If that house went, what hope was there for the rest?
So I suppose it’s a great stroke of luck that at least one side of the square is still made up of original buildings.
No. 44 (the nearest, in red brick) is now a fashionable club, of more modern fame than Brooks’s and Boodle’s, but it used to be the home of Lord and Lady Clermont and features a most impressive staircase. Horace Walpole, who was a regular visitor, thought that the staircase was ‘as beautiful as a piece of scenery’ – and he was right.
No. 45 (the slightly taller white one beyond) has some darkness in its past. It was the home of Clive of India, until he died in 1774 of an overdose of laudanum.
No 46 might be a preserved gem.
Unlike some of its neighbours, it hasn’t been burdened with unsightly vertical extensions. In fact, I think it looks just as it did at the time of this gorgeous 1813 engraving.
No. 47 is very pretty, but a later addition (it was built in 1891).
The next two are much altered, but No 50 has an interesting story.
Not just because in the late 19th century it acquired the reputation of one of the most haunted houses in London, but also because it was the home of George Canning, the Foreign Secretary who fought a duel with Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary of State for War, because they disagreed on military strategy and the deployment of troops on the Continent, during a stage of the Napoleonic wars. In this day and age (and especially now, at the end of an electoral campaign) this paints a strange and adorably quaint picture. Could we imagine modern-day politicians meeting on Wimbledon Common to exchange pistol-shots over disagreements on current affairs?
If we go further down, we find ourselves in Fitzmaurice Place. This little street did not exist in Georgian times. If you time-travel off that spot, you’ll find yourself trespassing in the gardens of Lansdowne House. This grand residence had a strange fate. Part of it is still in place, as Lansdowne Club, but the dining room is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the drawing room is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (For more information on Lansdowne Club, click the link HERE or above.)
I wish Gunter’s was in a museum too, rather than vanished without trace and replaced with a Prêt. I haven’t been able to find an engraving showing Gunter’s. All I could find is more or less the same paragraph repeated almost word for word in many places, that it was somewhat of a habit with the bon ton to have their ices in the square, in their own carriages, rather than in the shop, and that the flavours might have surprised the modern palate, as they included lavender and bergamot along with more familiar ones such as vanilla, elderflower, lemon, orange, pistachio and chocolate.
So I am standing outside Prêt still dreaming of Gunter’s and lavender-flavoured sweetmeats – and I still don’t know which one is Mr. Darcy’s house. Of course, it doesn’t really matter. I like the trees. I like the name – Berkeley Square. It has resonance, just as ‘Fitzwilliam Darcy’ does. Thanks to Sharon Lathan’s post on Georgian townhouses, it’s easier to imagine what we might find in Mr. Darcy’s home, behind the tasteful and unpretentious façade.
In the Pride & Prejudice variation I’m writing at the moment, we hardly ever go to Pemberley until the very end. But the townhouse features very often, so take your pick of one of those lovely houses or imagine your own, and let’s get together later to spend some time in Mr. Darcy’s London home.
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my upcoming book, which will hopefully be released this autumn.
* * * *
The Unthinkable Triangle
“Come now, Darcy! Have you never been tempted to evade our dearest aunt’s presence?” Fitzwilliam laughed and his inordinately gleeful manner gave Darcy pause in offering the brandy he had poured. “Her talents are well and truly wasted,” Fitzwilliam resumed. “If only she could be in command of the Third Dragoons! I could well imagine my hardened companions quaking in their boots before her!” he added with an immoderate guffaw.
Having heard as much, Darcy carried his own glass to his lips but left the other on the marble-topped sideboard. He set his own drink down and cast a smiling glance at his relation.
“Have you been drinking, Fitzwilliam?”
“Aye. The nectar of the gods. Aphrodite’s own witch brew,” his companion retorted with another chuckle.
“Honestly, Cousin! I know Lady Catherine is a trial on one’s patience, but drowning yourself at the local watering hole is not an answer. And so immoderately too! I have never seen you quite so much in your cups!”
A diverted smile was his answer and then Fitzwilliam spoke up.
“I am not in my cups, Cousin.”
“Is that so? You could have fooled me! Then what ails you?”
“Nothing ails me. Quite the opposite, in fact, ” the other replied promptly, clearly unable to contain himself. “Darcy, I am engaged to be married! I proposed today and Miss Bennet had the kindness to say yes! Now, I can see that you are stunned, and before you say anything, aye, I know that in some respects this is sheer madness, since we both have precious little to live on. She is far from wealthy and so am I, but somehow things will come together. Thank goodness for Old Boney. At least my soldier’s pay would see us through for as long as the war lasts, and then I shall find a way to keep us afloat. Damme, I would even go into trade if I have to, and if this does not send my esteemed father into a fit of apoplexy then I do not know what would. You say nothing… What, no congratulations? I am that sorry, Darcy! I was hoping to have you on my side at least. I know how wild it seems and bordering on the irresponsible. Believe you me, I did try very hard indeed to be sensible and tell myself it is not an advantageous match. Pater would rant and rave and so would the others, but I say hang them all! I could not leave her, Darcy, and go my own way! I cannot lose her. I love her. And I was hoping that even you might come to see why. I know she does not meet with your approval in more than one regard but, for my sake, I was hoping you can overlook it and wish us joy,” Fitzwilliam concluded at last, his open countenance reflecting genuine emotion, and his hand outstretched.
From the moment that the thunder had struck, Darcy had heard less than one word in twenty. All the while, three other words screamed in his head, over and over.
‘This cannot be! This cannot be! This cannot be!’
What mockery was this – what nightmare?
If it was a nightmare, then good Lord, pray let him awaken!
And yet the heavens remained silent, and the nightmare raged on.
His cousin was not silent, but his words held no meaning, as though they were spoken in a foreign tongue. At long last, he stopped talking and offered him his hand. Through nothing but numb force of habit, Darcy took it and clasped it, then abruptly excused himself, his steps carrying him faster and faster through the silent house.
‘Dead man walking – how dreadfully fitting.’ The thought flitted through his shock-struck mind, soon to be followed by disjointed, lightning-like flashes, as he walked out of the house into the pitch-dark garden. Elizabeth married to Fitzwilliam – his closest relation, in spirit if not blood. And he would see them together constantly. In town. At Ashford. And at Pemberley. Married to his cousin. He would be expected to attend the wedding. See her at the altar pledging herself to his closest friend. See them walk away to be man and wife together!
He gasped for breath, as though punched in the stomach – or as though he was about to be violently sick.
* * * *
So, what do you reckon? Are you horrifed yet?
For those of you who know my books, I needn’t say more. You know the drill (don’t you, Jeanna? 😉 ). For those of you who don’t, I’ll just say come along and don’t be afraid, because I firmly believe in a couple of things:
1. In this lovely JAFF world of ours, Elizabeth and Darcy should never end up living their lives apart.
2.What’s the point of reading a book if it leaves you feeling miserable?
So I promise an all-round ‘Happy ever after’, hand on heart. Are you willing to take the ride with me?