Nell Gwynn’s Covent Garden

Nell’s journey in the heart of theatre land continues…..

The theatre land in London now is of course not the bawdy, dirty maze of streets that it once was. But wandering around Drury lane, I closed my eyes and imagined the smells and sounds than Nell would have heard. If I opened this door, would I see her selling oranges, dreaming of the big time?

would Nell and the actors have had a drink in the pub nearby?
would Nell and the actors have had a drink in the pub nearby?

This is a real rags to riches tale and I enjoyed the fact that it had a very different feel to it from many of the other royal historical fictions I have read – it wasn’t all about power and survival. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for me was the descriptions of the theatre world and of how it makes Nell feel:

 “ I want to do that Nell thought. I want to make them love me like that.”

Would Nell have stood here?
Would Nell have stood here?

I found Gillian’s style very readable and enjoyable to read too. I loved the way she described the scenery, even remembering to include the smells as well as the sounds.  I felt I got a really good feel for what London was like at this time and the struggle that people like Nell found life to be like. So much so that I thought I had to go to London to see Nell and her theatre land for myself.  I also spent a lot of time to wander around the cobbled streets of Convent Garden to hear the traders and the crowds shout as they would have done back in the day:

Covent Garden where Nell once thought of her mum ‘alone in the grey streets of Covent Garden, where the plague raged most  fiercely’

Covent Garden where Nell once thought of her mum 'alone in the grey streets of Covent Garden, where the plague raged most  fiercely'
Covent Garden where Nell once thought of her mum ‘alone in the grey streets of Covent Garden, where the plague raged most fiercely’

In the heart of Covent Garden
In the heart of Covent Garden

A funny  moment when Nell discovers where she should go to the toilet whilst on stage – in something called Oliver’s skull:

Kate indicated the chamber pot tucked behind a screen and Nell giggled in delight at the thought that Cromwell’s hated name had come to mean a lowly pisspot.

This book fully captured my imagination. I felt fully immersed in the times and felt as if I was standing right beside Nell. I warmed to her and wanted to be her friend. The story is essentially how she meets and falls in love with the king, but the real story is about Nell and her struggle and her spirit above all else.

Getting to know Nell has been an historical insight as well as a joy and I am keen to read more from Gillian Bagwell.

Mistress of a King – Nell Gwynn’s London

Neil Gwynn came from nothing to become the mistress of King Charles II. Her story is told by Gillian Bagwell and is set in the heart of theatreland in London……so off I went….  

Nell Gwynn
Nell Gwynn

The Darling Strumpet is the story of Nell’s impressive rise from the streets of London to the most coveted position in the land. Her spirit shines out in the book – her tenacity, wit and charm above all else.

But what also came out of this novel, sadly, was the awful early life she had and the abuse she suffered at the hands of men and boys. Some readers will feel very uncomfortable at the language and descriptions used but they are all sadly representative of the time it would seem. Women in general were nothing more than men’s playthings and I must admit I shed a tear at some of the early scenes.

Talking of the King’s mistress they have just spotted in the crowd, one of the lads with Nell boasts;

 “Aye, just give me half an hour with her. I reckon she’d be worth the price.”

But Nell’s real story is not the negative parts of her life but how she overcame these and other situations by her charm and sheer zest for life. Her thrill at  getting a job selling oranges at the theatre is charming as it is exciting for the reader as we know this is the start of some good fortune for a heroine we have already come to love.

Arriving at the Theatre where she is going to see a lady called Orange Moll to see if she can a job at this amazing new place of excitement:

And she would be part of it! She felt a thrill, and then a stab of doubt..[ ]

After all, who was she but a ragamuffin from the squalid streets?

The majestic looking Kings Theatre on Drury  Lane
The majestic looking Kings Theatre on Drury Lane

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Nell is enthralled by the smells and sounds of the theatre – no wonder she wants to become an actress. When the man who says will teach her, suddenly murdered, I admit I cried. No! Was Nell’s dream about to be snatched away??

Please come back for part two …there was too much to share in just one post!