Anyone who stops by to read my blog will know how much I enjoy researching for the books that I write. Willoughby's Return is set in Devon, Dorset and London so I spent a lot of time reading about these places as they were in the 1800's.
Marianne is married to Colonel Brandon and they are settled with one child at Delaford in Dorset with her sister Elinor and husband Edward Ferrars living nearby at the parsonage with their children. When Marianne receives news that her husband's nephew is coming home from university, she gets very excited on Margaret's behalf. Marianne thinks a ball will be the very thing to introduce Henry Lawrence to the neighbourhood (and her sister) and so promises to take Margaret shopping to Exeter, the nearest large town to Barton in Devon where Margaret lives in a cottage with her mother on the estate of Barton Park which belongs to Mrs Dashwood's cousin, Sir John Middleton.
I found the wonderful painting above on a super site about Exeter which you can access by clicking on the link Exeter City Council Time Trail. You can travel through a model of the town made in 1820 amongst other things. The painting of Exeter High Street inspired the opening of one of the early chapters in Willoughby's Return. I hope you enjoy the extract that follows.
They were set down by the square of the New London Inn, so that they could work their way down the High Street and not miss a single shop or market stall. Exeter was teeming with people and carriages, all seemingly unaware of the other as they set about their determined business. There were so many stalls with traders thrusting their wares under the girls’ noses as they attempted to pass, that there was scarcely any room to manoeuvre. Trays of sticky buns, held head high, wafted tempting smells of freshly baked treats. Panniers of ruby apples and yellow pears, swaying from the hips of ruddy-cheeked girls, scented the air with the perfume of a September orchard, whilst tiers of orange pumpkins arranged along the wayside impeded their every step. Waggons and carts rumbled down the street, piled high with sacks, boxes, barrels and packages. A flock of sheep were being shepherded by two small boys wielding sticks, along with a barking dog who leaped and snapped if any chanced to stray too far. Geese and ducks waddled in formation down the central thoroughfare as though they owned the road, as a young girl with a basket of eggs called out to passersby to try her goods. Marianne and Margaret wove their way through the teeming tapestry of market town life, calling to one another to look in a particular shop window or laugh at some amusing sight. They soon found themselves on the corner of Queen Street, close by their favourite linen drapers. On entering the shop, they found it to be as busy inside as out. Every mother and daughter in Exeter, it appeared, had chosen to arrive at the same time, all jostling for a chance to view the latest muslin, lutestring, and satin.
“Margaret, what do you think of that one?” Marianne asked, pointing to a fine white mull draped in the window, embroidered with gold thread, which glimmered in the sunlight.
“It is very beautiful,” sighed Margaret, “but I fear it will cost the earth!”
“I have not brought you here to discuss finances,” Marianne scolded, “I have promised you a ball gown of the highest quality and that is what you shall have!”
“But there is a very good white satin laid out on the counter which would make a very pretty gown. And though I must admit the mull is quite the most divine gauze I have ever seen, I could do very well with the other.”
Margaret could see the shopkeeper deep in conversation with a very smartly dressed young woman who was ordering yards of the glossy fabric which waved like the sea over the counter, rippling over the edge onto the floor. The elegant plumes on her grey hat were nodding as she talked. There was quite a queue forming, the mother before them muttering under her breath at the time it would take to get to the front, as her daughter complained that there would be no satin left if the lady preceding them was any indication to go on. Another assistant appeared to alleviate the restless crowd and at last they moved forward.
“Let me indulge you this once, Margaret,” Marianne insisted. “Henry Lawrence will be used to seeing women of his acquaintance attired in the very finest clothes; I cannot have you look anything but your very best.”
“Very well,” laughed Margaret, “so long as you promise not to speak of that man again. I am well aware you have married me off to him and I am certain that he and I will never suit.”
“How can you say such a thing? I have heard he is a very handsome man, cultured and charming. Every report declares him to be just the sort of gentleman you like.”
“There has never been a man yet who has had the power to engage my heart.” Margaret picked up a pair of long kid evening gloves from the display by the window. She turned them over but was not really examining them at all. She was lost in thought, wondering if she should confess her folly to her sister. Marianne was engrossed on the other side, in admiration of a bolt of crimson velvet, but declared it as being too dark for such young skin.
“Actually, that is not entirely true,” Margaret persisted, although not understanding quite why she was willing to confess her old, childish fantasies.
Marianne turned, all astonishment. “Tell me, Margaret, who is this paragon, this nonesuch, this nonpareil?”
“Do you promise not to reprimand me if I dare tell?” Margaret looked into her sister’s eyes, and then sighed. “Oh, it is so silly, I wish I had not said a word. It was just a youthful infatuation. What will you think of me? You will be very cross with me.”
I mentioned in the extract that Marianne and Margaret were set down by the new London Inn. I chose this location because Jane Austen had mentioned it in Sense and Sensibility. It's the wonderful part of the book where we are fed certain intelligence which we later find out is not quite all it appears to be! Here is the extract where one of the servants, Thomas, reports who has seen outside the New London Inn.
"I suppose you know ma'am, that Mr. Ferrars is married."
Marianne gave a violent start, fixed her eyes upon Elinor, saw her turning pale, and fell back in her chair in hysterics. Mrs. Dashwood, whose eyes, as she answered the servant's inquiry, had intuitively taken the same direction, was shocked to perceive by Elinor's countenance how much she really suffered, and in a moment afterwards, alike distressed by Marianne's situation, knew not on which child to bestow her principal attention.
The servant, who saw only that Miss Marianne was taken ill, had sense enough to call one of the maids, who, with Mrs. Dashwood's assistance, supported her into the other room. By that time, Marianne was rather better, and her mother leaving her to the care of Margaret and the maid, returned to Elinor, who though still much disordered, had so far recovered the use of her reason and voice as to be just beginning an inquiry of Thomas as to the source of his intelligence. Mrs. Dashwood immediately took all that trouble on herself: and Elinor had the benefit of the information without the exertion of seeking it.
"Who told you that Mr. Ferrars was married, Thomas?"
"I see Mr. Ferrars myself, ma'am, this morning in Exeter, and his lady too, Miss Steele as was. They was stopping in a chaise at the door of the New London Inn, as I went there with a message from Sally at the Park to her brother, who is one of the postboys. I happened to look up as I went by the chaise, and so I see directly it was the youngest Miss Steele; so I took off my hat, and she knew me and called to me, and inquired after you, ma'am, and the young ladies, especially Miss Marianne, and bid me I should give her compliments and Mr. Ferrars's, their best compliments and service, and how sorry they was they had not time to come on and see you - but they was in a great hurry to go forwards, for they was going further down for a little while - but howsever, when they come back, they'd make sure to come and see you."
There is a very interesting history of the New London Inn which can be found on this fascinating site Exeter Memories. Sadly, it was demolished in 1936 to make way for the cinema. The postcard below shows the inn as the hotel it later became in the 1920's. The print above is from the 1800's.