“Mapping” the Ton

When I’m writing a Regency, I like to try to be as authentic as I can be, so I do a lot of examining period house floor plans, looking at lots of photographs, thinking about carpets (see the comments on Andrea’s blog yesterday!). I almost always have a “real” house in mind for my characters, and I almost always try to set that house in a real place.

Much of Scandalizing the Ton takes place in Mayfair, so I did a lot of looking at maps of the area, trying to make certain I put Lydia’s house in a “real” part of Mayfair. When I wrote the first draft, the opening scene took place behind Lydia’s townhouse, in the mews. Note the cover. You can see the door of a stable in the background.

After I sent in the first draft of the manuscript, my editor, Linda Fildew (pictured on Amanda’s blog last Saturday), said one of the other editors walked through Mayfair at the location I’d given Lydia’s townhouse and there were no mews there. On the corner, however, there was a fence with a gate into the garden. So if you read the first scene , you’ll notice that Lydia and Adrian meet on the pavement and go through the gate to the garden. The cover had already been designed by then.

This wasn’t the end of my mapping woes, though. I received additional revisions. I thought I’d share a bit of how it went:

Linda: I’ve been poring over maps from the early 1800s and am struggling with the road layout. P1 Chesterfield Street appears to run south of Charles Street when the story has it running alongside Hill Street which is north of Charles.
From a modern map this road is called Chesterfield Hill, but can’t find this on the 1802 map of London’s streets that I’ve been looking at. Could I ask you to check this, please? You may have better recourse to maps than I do.

Diane: I’ve discovered the problem! On the modern map, the street that intersects with Hill Street is named Chesterfield Hill (Chesterfield in 1827 intersects with Curzon and Charles). In 1827 Chesterfield Hill was named John Street. I’ve made the changes.

Isn’t this the best? My editors walk Mayfair and pore over period maps!

The map I used for Scandalizing the Ton was Greenwood’s Map of London 1827 available online. Part of the Mayfair section of the map is shown above.

My question….Does it matter to you that the geography is right?

For more about the history of gossip and scandal that inspired Scandalizing the Ton, take a peek at my Behind the Scenes feature. For more of my mapping adventures check this Behind the Scenes.

I have a new contest on my website, several chances to win some of my backlist.

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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18 Responses to “Mapping” the Ton

  1. Erastes says:

    I think it’s nice that your editors care about the detail in this respect but I can’t see that many readers will be quite so bothered as to pull up old maps and see the location. I’ve certainly never bothered even with authors I live and breathe with such as Austen.

    I generally name a road, or a square where my people live – check that it existed in that period and that’s it. I think that as long as your reader feels safe that you seem to know what you are doing, and they don’t get jolted out of the story by (as I read in a story recently) travelling via Victoria station in 1820(!!) then that’s all one needs to do. But cool beans to your editors. My first editor didn’t know the first thing about the period and instead of checking my facts she questioned me about them first…

  2. Elena Greene says:

    Cool stuff, Diane!

    As a reader I am generally not fussy as long as nothing totally jars me. The one book I read in which a couple traveled from London to the far reaches of Cornwall in half a day almost hit the wall. Depending on weather and traffic, you can’t always do that in a car, let alone a carriage! But the book was very popular here and was in the running for the RITAs, so obviously many readers don’t care about such details. However UK readers would naturally notice such things more.

    As an author, I do pore over maps, but it’s not just for accuracy’s sake. It helps me to visualize scenes so I can write them with more confidence. Once I even sketched a map of a village I invented, just so I would understand how people got from one location to another. 🙂

  3. Diane Gaston says:

    Erastes, Elena makes the point of why I try so hard. While most North American readers wouldn’t care if I got Mayfair correct, British readers might. My books come out in the UK, usually the same month as NA. The editors (who are based in Richmond, UK)knew Mayfair enough to decide to check it.

    I’d hate it if an author didn’t get the Washington, DC area correct.

    But you are totally right. Most readers don’t care.

    Elena, I haven’t drawn a village yet, but I might do the same thing in order to move my characters around.

  4. While I am sure some readers might not care I cannot imagine the British readers not caring! They are very proud of London and all of their heritage. I think it is wonderful that your editors take the care to check out those things to which they have access. It means they take their jobs very seriously.

    I use floor plans and as many visuals as I can to help myself write. I love to be able to visualize where my characters live and work and play.

  5. Lois says:

    Well, arguably, when I’m reading any sort of book that doesn’t take place in the US, I tend to assume if it’s a real place, that the geography and environment is the real thing and fairly accurate. But in the end, I’ll probably never notice if it isn’t. No matter what though, since I know most authors such as you guys do the research or even go to the locations to have it as accurate as you can, even if I’ll never know, I still appreciate it all the same! 🙂


  6. janegeorge says:

    How fabulous that your editors enable your little obsession. 🙂
    I love maps. When I was working on my one and only historical I’d get lost for hours in Horwood’s map of London.Good stuff! But I’m getting lots more interest in the other stuff I write, so no more losing myself in history. But more pages get written…

    As a reader of historical romance, I totally appreciate accurate historical detail. The ambiance is the point, not the by-product. Thanks for the reminder for me to go pick up Scandalizing the Ton.

  7. Cara King says:

    Oh, that’s so neat, Diane! I had no idea the M&B editors checked facts so thoroughly.

    I do think it’s good to get geography and such straight — particularly anything that a local might notice. I certainly felt my jaw drop reading one historical romance where the heroine ran from Covent Garden to Bow (in the East End) in a couple minutes, then back again… And one teen novel which had a forest right where a beach is in Los Angeles drove me crazy. (The climate there would have prevented such a thing, even if history hadn’t!)

    I confess I had one geographical error in GAMESTER which I discovered before I submitted it, but decide to leave in. At one point, the heroine and her brother head up a dead-end alley, looking for someone… I’d left the precise location intentionally vague, but still, when I double-checked all the London geography, I realized that during the Regency, there basically were no dead-end alleys…but I decided to leave it in anyway. (Because I figured someone could have thrown up a wall or something, right?) 😉


  8. Diane Gaston says:

    I usually assume that the geography is correct in any book I read, too, Lois, but when I know it is wrong, it pulls me out of the story. It bothers me most when the facts are easy to check and with today’s internet, it is easy to check the distance between Bow Street and Covent Garden! Just use mapquest! Or Google Earth.

  9. flchen1 says:

    How cool is that?! Thanks for sharing that, Diane–it’s always so neat to get some of the inside scoop 🙂

  10. “where the heroine ran from Covent Garden to Bow (in the East End) in a couple minutes, then back again…”

    Wow. Get that heroine into the Olympics, right now. 🙂

    When I can, I tend to be a bit vague about locations in stories, just because I get very nervous I will get something wrong (but now that I know how closely the editor fact-check such things, I wouldn’t be so scared, LOL). But when I do have to be specific, I’ve found it’s fairly easy (and lots of fun) to go hunting up old maps and memoirs.

    I love it that the setting on the cover is the actual one from the story, too!!

  11. andrea pickens says:


    It’s always a hard thing to decide just how niggly to be. I think many of us authors like to “get it right” as a matter of professional pride. It says we care about what we do. But that said, I feel it’s okay to sometimes take license with small details that don’t reall affect the story. As a reader, I truly would not care if you misplaced an alley by one street. (But I would care about getting to Cornwall in half a day LOL)

    It’s a matter of judgment and degree. I try not to be a margin crawler with other people’s work, and I hope readers cut me the same slack if I make a tiny mistake. All in all, I agree with the other sentiments voiced here saying most readers don’t really care about the arcane details.

  12. I generally name a road, or a square where my people live – check that it existed in that period and that’s it.

    Usually I don’t even do that! I make them all up. As a test, though, in my first book, Dedication, I had the hero rent a house on a real street that hadn’t yet been built, just to see if anyone noticed. They didn’t.

    I love the idea of your editors, map in hand, prowling the streets of Mayfair. That’s really taking their job seriously.

  13. Diane Gaston says:

    Janet, I think making up streets is another way to go. I love that you stuck in an street that hadn’t been built yet ON PURPOSE!

    Andrea, I do think I go overboard in making sure I’m moving my characters through London properly.

    I’ll probably still use maps to move my characters around, mostly because I get a kick out of doing it!

  14. Todd says:

    Cara wrote:

    I certainly felt my jaw drop reading one historical romance where the heroine ran from Covent Garden to Bow (in the East End) in a couple minutes, then back again.

    Ah, that would have been Anne Elliot, after she got in shape by running up and down the hills of Bath. 🙂


  15. Diane Gaston says:

    bwwaaahaha, Todd.

  16. Diane, this just makes me adore Linda more (as if I didn’t in my interactions with her at National; ran into her every day). I’m so glad they’re being so careful to get the mapping right. As my copy of STT attests, I have small post-its hanging off so many pages where I was so glad as a reader to know pointed details. Many writers gloss over those leaving it, they say, for the reader to imagine. However, the reader needs some hooks to hinge their imaginations on. Given a blank canvas, it hard to picture how the characters move in the space and interact with it and how they’re changed by their surroundings.

    Now, for me that first scene set how I pictured the garden gate, how Adrian entered the townhouse, where Reed and Bess (maid?) had their clandestine meetings, how the townhouse backed onto the road, and how that road looked different from the road that ran in front of the house. And now that I can see the map, I see how well the picture in my head matches the actual map.

    Todd, thanks for the laughs. If you’d been in the Regency, I’m sure you’d’ve been spotted riding a sedan chair.

  17. How neat that your editors would check these things!

    Personally, I love maps. I own a ton of them, and have saved many I’ve found online to my hard drive. Guidebooks from the period as well. As a result, I am anal about getting the geography right.

    Say my characters were in London and wanted to go from their home in Belgravia to Covent Garden Opera House, I will not only look at the map, but photographs of the streets and search out descriptions of that area of London in order to give the scene an accurate flavor.

    But that’s just me. I’m anal. lol

  18. Diane Gaston says:

    la belle americaine, I won’t say I quite go looking for images of the streets, but I did look at images of the countryside each step of the way in The Vanishing Viscountess.

    It’s all part of the fun of writing historical, isn’t it?

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