Love the landscapes of The Fire in the Glass? Though the story is fantasy, the settings are real. I’m an unapologetic Anglophile and love virtually traveling London to decide where each scene will play out. Here’s some real-life insights into favorite spaces from the book.
Visit the heath today and you’ll find a lovely 800 acre public park situated just north of the city of London. On a nice day, it’ll be packed with visitors. That would have been the same during the early 20th century, when city dwellers would hop on the train to Hampstead to escape the smog for a few hours.
Now, the park is entirely enclosed by suburban development. In Lily’s time, the area to the north was still largely undeveloped. The heath represented the boundary between London and the countryside of Essex. Lily would have had plenty of space to roam on her Triumph.
It’s a rambling space of fields, moorland and forest, something that would have felt distinctly wild to a woman raised in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world.
I’ve always envisioned Lily barreling along on Hampstead Road, and may have modeled Hartwell’s new project after Kenwood House. That wasn’t actually ruined in 1914 – I believe an exiled Russian grand duke was living there.
March Place, Bloomsbury
There is no March Place, but Bloomsbury is real. The neighborhood is home to the British Museum. It’s fairly posh digs now, but during Lily’s time was known for attracting artists and creative thinkers. The famous and sexually diverse Bloomsbury Group, which included Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forester and John Maynard Keynes, were located here. It was also a heart for the women’s suffrage movement.
In Lily’s time, the posher character of the area would have been limited to the homes immediately fronting one of Bloomsbury’s garden squares. Other streets, like Lily’s March Place, had a more stolidly middle class character. One writer of the time described them as “long” and “unlovely”, the haunt of respectable physicians and lawyers.
I love the sense of this place as a bizarre melding of professionals droning through their routine beside bright iconoclasts like Estelle and Miss Bard.
The Refuge, Bedford Square
The Refuge is very specifically situated for me on Bloomsbury’s Bedford Square. This is less well-known than Russell Square, just behind the museum, but I love the broad roads and gorgeous Georgian character of the buildings. The pair in bright white, standing out in such stark contrast to the neighboring brick, called to me.
They’re currently the home of New College for Humanities which – funny enough – was acquired by Northeastern University in Boston, where I spent two years of my college life before moving to Belfast. If I’d waited just a bit longer, I might have been able to study abroad and walk the same halls as Ash and Cairncross.
The square was certainly upper class in 1914, and that hasn’t changed. It’s home to several cultural institutions, including Yale University Press and Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
I put both Deveral and Lord Strangford in this neighborhood just north of Kensington Gardens. This is now one of London’s highest rent districts but was of slightly more mixed character historically. The streets that did not face the park were of a distinctly dodgy character for periods of the 19th century. That would’ve been history by Strangford’s time, but I still think his home, set a bit further back in the Lancaster Gate area, could have been affordable for an aristocrat of limited means.
Deveral’s place, facing the gardens, would have been more clearly high-class.
As it happens, Sting was once a resident of the neighborhood, living in a basement flat during the 1970s. Since I still want to be Sting when I grow up, that seems a fitting connection.
St. Bartholomew’s Hospital
Sherlock fans (and aren’t we all?) will be familiar with St. Bart’s, the London teaching and charity hospital where Dr. Watson trained. More recently, the iconic 18th century building was the site of Benedict Cumberbatch’s leap to an apparent demise.
The hospital was founded in the 12th century to provide free healthcare to the poor. That mission was still intact during the early 20th century, when my fictional Dr. Gardner walks its halls. It had a reputation for being very clean and well-run, and some of the leading medical advancements of the time were developed inside its halls.
The Palace of Westminster is likely the most recognizable building in Great Britain. Home of Big Ben and both Houses of Parliament, it is set on the north bank of the Thames. The building is technically a royal residence – hence “palace”.
Lily’s movements through the palace to the Lord’s Chamber as depicted as carefully as possible based on images and descriptions of those spaces, which honestly haven’t changed all that much in the last 100 years.
My own experience haunting the New Hampshire Statehouse suggested that the committee rooms would likely be empty while the Lords was in session, and therefore a perfect place for a quiet chat.
The Borough of Kensington
Kensington is one of London’s most expensive areas. Located to the west of the city, it is the home to many embassies and billionaires. The area sprang into fashion after the Great Exhibition in the mid-19th century. Development was clearly geared towards the monied, consisting of enormous townhouses set on private gardens. There are over 100 private garden squares in the district, nearly all of them under lock-and-key for all but residents to this day.
This felt like the perfect place for me to locate Dr. Hartwell, positing him in the upper echelons of society while still giving Lily ample space to cause trouble.
St. Saviour’s Dock
This sheltered inlet sits about 400 meters east of Tower Bridge on the south side of the Thames. It’s what remains of the River Neckinger, one of several rivers that once flowed into the Thames. These have been gradually buried as the city expanded, many becoming part of its elaborate and baroque system of sewers.
In the 19th century, the area was a notorious slum. Dickens set Olive Twist here in the rookery known as Jacob’s Island. This was largely torn down at the end of the 19th century and redeveloped into warehouses.
These warehouses are now posh apartments, but during Lily’s era they would have been working as intended. My description of hoists, internal and external, are based on buildings from the period. I stole the idea of the river-facing entrance for boats from warehouses on London’s Regent Canal.
Brede Abbey, The Weald
The Torrington family seat, Brede Abbey, is modeled after Port Eliot in Cornwall, the home of the Earls of St. Germans. I moved the house to Sussex because I wanted someone with Torrington’s influence to have his country seat a bit closer to the center of power.
The Weald is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty sprawling into four counties. There are rolling fields, farmsteads and woodlands – a landscape that was unspoilt in both Lily’s day and our own. It felt like the perfect place for Lily to take her victory lap.
Get closer with the Google Earth project
Want an even more intimate view of these spots? I’ve created a Google Earth project that will whisk you through the landscapes of The Fire in the Glass. Check it out. I recommend shameless use of street view.