Who lived in Park Lane (the cheap end)?
My favourite thing - uncovering the secrets of the census
The end [of Park Lane] near Piccadilly, and immediately opposite the rear of the residence of the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Cambridge, are a few houses of an inferior class.
Appleton’s Journal of Literature, Science and Art, 15 June 1872
WHAT DO YOU think when you hear the words Park Lane? Do think Oooooh posh? After all, Park Lane, is Mayfair, once home to millionaires, celebritiesand aristocrats. The money is still there, of course, but now Park Lane is mostly hotels, luxury car showrooms and casinos.
You probably never walk along Old Park Lane, the part beyond the Hilton Hotel, which follows the original route to Piccadilly, down which cattlemen would drive their animals before the area was developed. The road traffic — coaches, carriages and carts — was split off in the 19th century, taking it towards Hyde Park Corner. Even now, Old Park Lane retains something of its rural origins. The land dips up and down and the adjacent streets are narrow and intimate. It feels like a proper lane.
There are some old buildings there but No. 13 Park Lane, where my WISP (Work in Slow Progress) is set, is long-gone, a victim of the Blitz. In 1872 it was one of a short row of flat-fronted terraced houses built some time after the start of the 19th century, with a pub, The Gloucester Arms (which plays a part in my story), on the corner. No. 13 had five storeys including a basement (the kitchen) and attic but it was tall and narrow, not generously proportioned. The design was common for London: a flight of steps up to the front door over a basement ‘area’ which gave access to the coal cellar (which also plays a part in the story) situated under the pavement. It easily accommodated two servants in separate rooms in the attic but there was nowhere to keep a horse and carriage. It was not grand.
The 1871 census shows Madame Marie Caroline Besson Riel, a widowed French woman, living at No. 13 with her daughter ‘Julia’ (Julie), both of them born in France. Madame Riel claimed to be 38 (she was 45) and Julie 19 (she was 24). The census does not state it, but Julie was an actress in the French theatres. Plays acted by French people and performed in French were popular at that time.
There were two servants at No. 13 in 1871, Louisa Goddard, aged 17, from Doncaster and ‘W. Jinglass’ [?] (not sure of the handwriting), aged 27, from France. Louisa and the illegible person do not figure in my story — they had both departed by the time the action took place in 1872. Madame Riel’s servants never stayed long. For reasons.
The Riels’ next-door neighbour (at No. 12) was Dr William Wadham, who specialised in forensic medicine (he also plays a part in my story) and worked at St George’s hospital, a stone’s throw away at Hyde Park Corner (it is now the Lanesborough Hotel and the hospital has moved to Tooting in south London). Wadham was not acquainted with the Riels although they had been neighbours for nearly two years. Why was that? Again, reasons.
On the other side, at No. 14, was Charles Player, a policeman, his wife, baby daughter and his mother. At No. 15 were nine domestic staff, housemaids, butlers and a cook, employed (probably ) either at the Duke of Cambridge’s house opposite (the Riels and their neighbours looked on to the back end of this palace) or at Holdernesse House (later Londonderry House).
As in any capital city, the wealthy sectors were inhabited by the wealthy (of course) and the less wealthy and poor lived around them, so that they could be on hand to provide them with services of one kind or another. This was true also of the inhabitants of No. 13. There was a well-known personage in South Street, situated a five-minute walk north up Park Lane, who required at least one of them to make herself available at his convenience.
And all that comes into my story too.