London Townhouse, the Mews

London Mews, June 2017

As any proper Regency lady or gentleman would tell you, the quintessential London home of the upper classes was the townhouse. Each home, attached at both sides to its neighbors, were as unique as its owners. Built in central London, these exclusive dwellings provided easy access to many beautiful city parks, as well as being within walking distance of shopping and all the iconic Regency areas such as Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Gunther’s Tea House, and the famous (or infamous) Almack’s assembly rooms.

As London grew and townhouses sprang up to house the rich and beautiful, the need for stables also grew because the only way to get around in London was by foot or horseback or carriage. The plentiful cabs were good enough for the working class, but the elite preferred using their private conveyances. Those rich enough to afford horses needed a place to keep their animals, tack, carriages, as well as drivers, grooms, and stable workers. But space was limited.  

Mews houses with garage doors where once horses and carriages dwelled

The solution was ingenious; build stables behind each townhouse with a road that leads to it. In London, these stables were known as mews. The mews were (and still are) tucked behind grand, mansion-style townhouses in London’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

Mews cobbled lane

A mews had many advantages. It kept the horses and staff nearby when the lord or lady of the house needed them, although it took considerable time to hitch the team to the carriage. Having the mews around back kept the sounds and smells of the animals away from the house’s residents and guests. The cobbled lane kept the area clean and provided good drainage of waste. 

Opposite the mews and cobbled lane is another row of stables behind another row of townhouses facing the next street. Often one end of this is yet another mews, or sometimes a pub, so it makes a sort of three-sided courtyard. Reportedly, many London mews had a tunnel under the garden connecting with the ground floor or basement of the house. This would have provided an easy way for servants to access the stable without disturbing their employers.

Entrance to a London mews

A cobbled back street, a narrow lane not much bigger than a bike lane, leads to the stables. From what I have been able to determine, the term mews mews refers to both the London stables and the lane that leads to them. Most of these lanes are named after the street nearby with the word mews tacked on. For example, Colville Road has the nearby Colville Mews. 

The only stables that are called mews are those in London attached to the back of a London townhouse. Anywhere else, and associated with any other type of dwelling, the term stables is used. 

Anciently, the mews is where the royals housed their falcons. Falcons, like most birds, moult or mew (from the French verb ‘muer’), which became the name of the place where they lived and therefore did this moulting or mewing. The word mews, oddly, is singular. Anyway, later they moved the falcons out and moved in the horses. The name mews stuck, despite the change in resident animals.

Horse names are still found on some doors that lead to today’s mews houses

Horses lived on the ground floor of the mews for obvious reasons. Many of the doors had the names of the horses who lived there. Some still do. A larger area provided room for the carriages and tack. The first floor (up one level) provided rustic accommodations for the driver and ostlers (groom or stablemen a.k.a. stable lads). Above this floor, many London homes had other floors where their house servants’ quarters were located but a lot of these were added during the Victorian Era. Some London townhouses also had gardens, but since I didn’t see any set up this way, I’m not certain exactly how they were laid out.

Lovely London mews homes

Today, most mews houses are beautifully restored homes which open onto a safe, quiet, cobbled lane with virtually no traffic. It has become a coveted, and therefore expensive, place to live partly because they have what are now garages, which are difficult to come by in London.

Mews houses and neighborhoods really are so lovely now that one can hardly believe their humble beginnings. I found a lot more photos on this blog called A Lady in London showing today’s exclusive London mews home. A few other photos are here on Mother Lindas blog

Sources:

Most of my sources are my years of study, as well as what I observed and learned during my trip to London. However, in addition to the above references sources, I also read this source: http://www.lurotbrand.co.uk/mews-gems/what-is-a-mews

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regency England through the Eyes of Romance Author Donna Hatch

Donna at Buckingham Palace Gate

                                             Tower Bridge

As many of you know, I recently spent three weeks in England. I walked all over a part of London known as Mayfair, studied buildings and architecture, and visited parks and locations of historical interest during the Georgian and Regency Era. I have such a better idea of Regency Mayfair, and how my characters would live, work, play, and travel. I also visited a bit more modern sites such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the famous Town Bridge. Okay, those aren’t truly modern–they are Victorian–but they came after the Regency so they are modern in my eyes. The Regency Tour offered by Number One London Tours, with Kristine Patrone was fantastic and I really benefitted from Kristine’s knowledge of England in general and English history in particular.

                                   Windsor Castle moat gardens

During the Regency Tour, we left London to tour the extraordinary Windsor Castle. I could live there. Yep, I totally could 😉 Words are inadequate for how beautiful that castle is and how fitting it is to house a royal family when they are able to go there. I saw a cluster of guards marching in perfect formation but didn’t get a photograph of them. I just love the rich traditions the English have! Photographs are not allowed inside Windsor Castle so I put away my camera and just enjoyed the beauty. A tour guide (?) inside one of the rooms that got burned down in 1992 gave me detailed information about the fire and showed me photos of rooms before the fire, just after the fire, and the restoration process. You can read more about the fire here. Great before and after photos of one of the restored rooms are here. I also enjoyed the queen’s dollhouse–it was so cute and I love miniatures. The castle is absolutely magnificent! The garden in the moat is especially charming.

                                            St. George’s Chapel

St. George’s Chapel inside Windsor left me almost speechless. I felt such a reverence and respect for those who built it and for the generations who worshiped there. An organ performance added to the overall beauty. I saw the beautiful and poignant tomb of Princess Charlotte, who died in 1817 during childbirth. I teared up looking at the statue of her grief-stricken ladies in waiting while her body lay lifeless. Overhead,  her spirit ascended with angels–one of them carrying her baby. The tomb beautifully retold  pain, loss, and yet hope of death and the life after. Photos weren’t allowed in the church but you can see images of the tomb here. The church itself was intricately crafted and exquisite!

We had lunch in Eaton on the river. I enjoyed the beautiful weather and watching the queen’s swans swim in the river. Yes, they are hers and yes, they are all accounted for annually in the “swan upping” when they gather, tag, and count the swans. The swan upping would be fun to watch, wouldn’t it?

                                  Prince George’s Brighton Pavilion

Later in the week during the Regency Tour, we took a train to Brighton to view the impressive but ostentatious Brighton Pavilion that Prince George (sometimes referred to unkindly as “Prinny” and who later became King George IV) had built. It was known as his Pleasure Palace. He had wild parties there in his early rakish days and kinda hid out there later on as his weight and behavior made him an object of social scorn.

I’ll blog more about the rest of my trip in snippets for probably months (years?) to come. But what did I learn on this Regency Tour? Regency London is smaller than I thought. Members of the aristocracy could have walked most places on a nice day. They probably all knew each other, too–at least, those who were lucky enough to be included in the beau monde and who frequented London. The architecture was fantastic. I was constantly amazed at the detailed craftsmanship done all by hand. I also learned in an even more profound way how different the lives were for people depending on their social status. We think it’s that way now, but the differences were so huge two hundred year ago that they hardly lived in the same world. Also, Englanders have a profound pride in their country, their culture, their traditions and history, and their monarchy. They have problems too, but that doesn’t seem to sway their love of king and country. The English truly are lovely and brilliant, aren’t they? 😀

I was fascinated–okay, obsessed–about Regency England before, but this trip has flamed that even more. If I didn’t miss my family so much, I would have had a much harder time leaving ancient and beautiful England and returning to the US.  Good thing I live in the Pacific Northwest now and am no longer in the Arizona desert! At least it’s green where I live. Now, if only I can put a formal garden in my backyard…