The Real History Behind The Clearwater Series

Part 2 – Trains

This is the second blog in a series where I look at the real historical events and facts behind my Clearwater Mysteries Series. Today we talk about my love of train travel, how it features in the books and are joined by my personal Railway Guru, Andy.

There is a lot of train travel in The Clearwater Mysteries, and for two reasons. Firstly, in the era in which the books are set, there were no cars or aeroplanes, travel was steam-powered, horse-driven, by sail, or you could walk. Secondly, I’ve always had a thing for travel, maps and routes. Within that is an interest in steam trains, though I am no expert. It must be in my blood, this thing about locomotives, and if it is, I can identify a good reason why.

The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway: A Childhood on the Tracks

It’s ironic, maybe, that I was born in 1963, the year the first Beeching report was undertaken. ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ sought to streamline the nationalised railways industry and was responsible for identifying 2,363 stations for closure (55%) and 30% of route miles. It’s also interesting that when I was born, my small, fairly remote hometown still had a railway station, and steam trains were still in use on mainlines, although they were being replaced by diesel. However, I can honestly say that the first time I ever travelled by train, it was pulled by a steam locomotive.

New Romney Railway (1966) – YouTube film

A mile from where I was born (in a petrol station and car repair shop, by the way) was, and still is, the central station for the world’s smallest passenger-carrying light railway. That’s the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RHDR), a 13.5-mile steam railway on a 15-inch gauge. The line was opened in 1927 and later expanded, much used by the military in WWII, and runs today as a popular tourist attraction. When I was at school, my classmates from out of town used it to get to school, and when I was growing up, it was part of my playground. I have childhood memories of not only riding on it but also being at the stations among the steam, playing on the tracks and simply watching the locomotives trailing steam and smoke across the marsh.

As an aside, at some point in the 70s, my godmother, The Dowager Lady Alvingham (on whom Lady Marshall is based in the Clearwater books), showed an interest in buying a castle that stands on a hill overlooking Romney Marsh. At the same time, my uncle, who had a passion for model railways, showed an interest in buying the RHDR. Their plan was to sit in Aunty Dolly’s castle, watching Uncle Hugh’s ‘toy’ trainset chugging across the flatlands below. Sadly, it never came to fruition, but my uncle did give us the model layout he’d built, and my father installed it in our attic. It was a vast landscape about 12 feet by four, had houses with working lights, the Flying Scotsman with real smoke, and provided hours of endless fascination for my brothers and me.

Still Chugging

My interest in train travel is still chugging along. In fact, it is my preferred method of travel. There is something romantic in planning a journey, and sometimes I think I am a frustrated travel agent. I don’t mean popping into Expedia and booking a flight and hotel; I mean looking at a map, working out what railways will get you there, finding the timetables and working out the connections.

Our travel companion, Paddington, at budapest train station

A few years ago, Neil and I decided on a Central European holiday. It was my fault, really. I wanted to travel a few countries by train, so I got out the atlas, Googled a bit, and set to work on a route. Because we live on an island, we had to start the journey by boat and fly to our first destination, Vienna. We were met by Neil’s brother, who lives there, and travelled into the city by train, so that was a good start. After a couple of days there, we moved on, and in the space of a couple of weeks, went from Vienna to Prague to Budapest to Belgrade on a variety of train journeys, some more classy than others.

Me fulfilling a bit of a dream, on a train, in the Carpathian mountains, coming back from Transylvania

Before this, we had been to Romania for my 50th birthday, flying into Bucharest and then taking the train into the Carpathian Mountains to Sighisoara, the alleged birthplace of Vlad Tepes on whom Stoker based Dracula. We also travelled by train to Brasov and stayed there on the way back to Bucharest, and we did all this first-class because, in Europe, ticket prices are often a tenth of the price they are in the UK and elsewhere.

I mention all this because, in the upcoming novel ‘The Clearwater Inheritance,’ some of the characters find themselves travelling by train and visit, among other places, Vienna, Budapest, and Brasov, and they journey through the Carpathian Mountains.

 

Across Canada by train, 2020

One of my life’s ambitions was to travel across Canada by train, a five-day journey from Toronto to Vancouver. (We passed through a place called Clearwater, and stopped at a place called Collins.) This we achieved last year, just before the world was overcome by the virus.

 

 

Seen in Vancouver

Actually, we left Vancouver at the end of the Canadian leg of the journey, the day after the country went into lockdown. Although our trip wasn’t over, we had to cut the London and Athens legs short as there was no point in going there; everything was shut. Rearranging flights at two in the morning while sitting in an airport, buying boat tickets, finding hotels, and wondering whether we might have to travel from London to Athens by hire car or train… Well, for me, that was like a weird dream come true. The travel agent in me kicked in, and we became like continents on ‘The Amazing Race.’

You won’t be surprised to learn I am keen on ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ by Jules Verne.

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At this point I thought it would be fun to invite my good friend Andy over tell us a little about himself. He has become my Railway Guru, always willing to answer my questions and check facts for me as I research the series. I asked him where his love of trains came from and how that seed grew.

I first became interested in railways at the age of 10 when my parents unwisely bought me an “ABC” locomotive spotting book to shut me up on an interminable family holiday rail journey from Birmingham to Ilfracombe. They came to very much regret doing this as my bedroom filled up with railway magazines, models, and bits of actual railway equipment. I was already interested in buses as there was a major bus depot a few minutes walk from my house. Through the teenage years the interests became more advanced with much borrowing of books from the library, and at the same time steam was disappearing from the UK national railway network. No doubt all that reading about how things came to be the way they were encouraged me to take a University degree in history, and then start a career in transport management (buses in this case). A switch to managing freight transport followed, and then manufacturing industry.

So great that your childhood hobby grew into your career. And I know that even now in retirement you have managed to carry on in a new capacity…

The view of the Booking Officer

Yes, after semi-retirement I took up a part-time position at my local heritage steam railway as Booking Office Supervisor, surrounded by 1898 vintage buildings, real working steam trains, and a superb shop selling second hand railway books. I have also added looking at ferries and aircraft to my transport studies.

When not doing this I like reading fiction, often set in the late-Victorian, Edwardian, 1920/30/40s era, and sneering at authors who get their railway facts wrong (and so often their geography too). Being used as a consultant on your “Clearwater” series was immensely satisfying as a result.

Thank you Andy and I really think that maybe it will be your turn next to write a book!

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So back to my writing and how I use trains in the Clearwater Mysteries.

The first time a train appears is in chapter one of book two, ‘Twisted Tracks’.

James Joseph Wright was born on January 10th, 1863, at the precise moment the world’s first underground train delivered its passengers to Farringdon station. As the locomotive puffed and fumed from the tunnel, James’s mother, some four miles distant, puffed and fumed through her own first delivery.

That’s the only time an underground train is mentioned in the series, but overground trains start to feature from then on. I started this book with an ending in mind. I wanted one of those classic ‘fight on the roof of a moving train’ moments and wanted to add in men on horseback riding alongside, someone (James) inching along the outside of the trucks, the villain doing away with the driver, and the train racing out of control towards a fiery end… And that’s exactly what you get.

Archer wasn’t far behind, galloping from the ridge to the rear of the train and encouraging his mount with his crop. The horse knew its purpose and worked with him, delivering him up the embankment to the backplate. The viscount drew level with the last car, stood in the stirrups, and grabbed the rail. With one great leap, he left the saddle and swung his legs across to the car. He landed first time and clambered aboard as the horse veered off and slowed. Archer wasted no time climbing to the roof, and James turned his attention to the engine.

‘Jimmy!’ Archer was above him, fighting the wind for his balance. ‘Warn the driver. Stop the train.’

Everything was shadows and speed, gusts and fumes as James fought his way to the next car. Wooden, it offered a narrow walkway, making it easier for him to pass, but there were no handholds apart from cracks in the planking where he dug his fingertips, pressing his body flat against the side. He didn’t know how many more cars there were before the tender, but the headlamps were still a way off. The driver was expecting to continue straight on and was steaming the engine hard. [Twisted Tracks, chapter 24.]

Fallen Splendour and Other Journeys

Trains appear again in book four, ‘Fallen Splendour.’ For this one, I wanted another tense sequence and included a race against time. In this case, I had to get James from London to the Welsh coast to collect Archer and get them both back to the High Court in London in as few hours as possible. Initially, I thought I had not left myself enough time and thought I might have to rewrite some chapters because the time I had given James to achieve his task seemed unreasonably short. Then I referred to my railways guru, Andy, and he told me about ‘specials.’ Apparently, if you had enough money and clout, you could have the railways put on a special train just for you, and this, they could do with a few hours’ notice. Perfect! Of course, being a Clearwater novel, I didn’t go for just any old special, which is why Archer finds himself steaming through the night in Queen Victoria’s royal carriage.

Bitter Bloodline’ (book five) starts with a train crash. ‘Artful Deception’ (book six) takes us across the English Channel and on a relatively short journey to the Netherlands and back, plus another train journey to Derbyshire. In book seven, ‘Home From Nowhere’, Jasper encounters his first journey by train.

Jasper’s fear soon gave way to intrigue when the train moved, and became awe when it picked up speed. It wasn’t long before he began to enjoy the rhythmic trundling, and the only time he thought he was going to die was when they passed through a tunnel. The

sound was deafening, smoke poured in through the window, and the carriage was plunged into darkness. It was over in seconds, leaving the footman struggling with the window, and Jasper shaking.

Train journeys are also featured in books eight and nine, but when we reach book ten… Well, that’s when I thought it was time to branch out from the domestic lines and go intercontinental.

The Clearwater Inheritance

You know how I am with ‘Dracula’, the epistolary novel to end all epistolary novels in my opinion… I employ a little of this ‘story in journals, letters, and other documents’ style in The Clearwater Inheritance.

Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker writing about his journey from Munich to Bistritz (now called Bistrita), travelling through Vienna and Budapest. Two of my characters take the same route because they are also travelling to Transylvania (though that’s got nothing to do with vampires).

I may have travelled on similar routes, but not, obviously, in the same century or on the same kind of trains, so I had to do some research into how such a journey would have been. You know how you sometimes get lucky? I put a search string into the search engine that read something like this: ‘Travelling in Europe in 1890’, and what should I find in a book collection?

Travels in Various Parts of Europe During the Years 1888, 1889 and 1890, Being a short and practical account, by Gilbert H. W. Harrison (with 24 illustrations).

I couldn’t have asked for anything better and was able to draw on first-person accounts of Folkestone, the channel crossing, Paris, Vienna, Budapest and parts of Hungary as they had been experienced in the same year as my story. I even have my characters stay at or mention hotels and stations Harrison saw and described.

Harrison was on a tourist route, however, and my characters follow the same route until they realise Thomas Cook & Son haven’t grasped the urgency of their journey. There are other delays, and backstory from ‘Banyak & Fecks’ comes into play at one point, as do other pre-mentioned backstories concerting Lady Clearwater’s Romanian/Transylvanian connections and other things to do with Archer’s past. Ultimately, my travelling characters need to get back to England in a hurry.

The map created for ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ based on one from 1912. All rights reserved. Dark lines and lighter solid lines show the Orient Express routes, dotted lines are the characters’ other routes.

Again, I spoke to Andy about this side of the story and asked how long it would have taken from Bodmin in Cornwall to Brasov in what is now Romania in 1890. He came back with suggested times and routes. Finding original timetables is never easy, but I reckon, in the story, I am as close to what was possible as I can be. For the return journey, though, I needed to speed things up a bit and so looked into using the Express d’Orient, the Orient Express as we now call it.

A timetable from The Orient Express

A couple of chapters happen aboard this luxury train, but this is not an Agatha Christie, and the journey to and from Brasov is only one aspect of the story, but again, I tried to be as accurate as possible, at least with descriptions and distances. I had to reschedule the Orient Express to a different day, else the rest of the plot wouldn’t work, but apart from that, the race home is, as far as I can see, accurate, if a little tight. The characters have an awful lot of luck making steamers and ‘very early’ trains, but hey, it’s fiction and fact mixed, faction, you might say, and it was all possible.

End of the line

Is book ten the end of the line for Clearwater? Has the series finally reached its destination? All I can say is, running at 150,000 words, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’ is the longest of the stories, and it does have a sense of rounding things off. It also has a sense of leaving something open for another series set in the same world, and it is that idea I will be considering once this book has been published.

Look out for my newsletter at the start of June, as there will be an extract from the book included as a special preview for those who sign up. (There won’t be any plot spoilers.)

I must go now, but I will add a list of references I have used for my railway research as a guide for anyone who is interested to know more.

Books:


 

Journal of the Society of Arts (1891), Austro-Hungarian Railways and the Zone System
London Daily News 1890 (and other newspapers of the time)

Online:

GlobalSecurity.org (on which my map of the route is based) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/orient-express.htm

The Man In Seat 61

 

 

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

Musical Cryptography: A Mystery Device

A good mystery needs particular elements. Strong characters, motives, opportunities, means, deceptions, red herrings… There’s a long list. In all my mysteries, I also employ what I call a device. A plan, method, or trick with a particular aim, as the online dictionary defines its meaning. Without giving too much away about my Clearwater Mystery Series in case you’ve not read every book, I wanted to tell you about some of the devices I have used in this series and in my other novels.

A Mystery Device

When I talk about a device, I am referring to the thing that needs to be understood for the mystery to be unlocked and the ‘treasure’ found. That ‘treasure’ can be a murderer on the run, a kidnapping victim, the prevention of an assassination, anything. It is the particular aim of the investigating characters.

So far in this series and other books with a mystery or treasure hunt element, I have used murder sites to form a map, a poem to reveal a location, anagrams, the first draft of Dracula and the novel itself (The Stoker Connection), an oil painting, family history (The Blake Inheritance), rare books, unusual poisoning and, on more than one occasion, musical codes.

Here’s an aside. Years ago, when I first moved to Brighton, UK, I had an idea for a madcap mystery adventure concerning drag queens and opera singers. I never finished writing this one, but I spent hours working out the plot and the devices. The story hinged on a piece of coded music. Later, when I moved to Greece in 2002, I set about writing another mystery adventure comedy (I like my mashups), and in it, the device of a musical code. The story, Jason and the Sargonauts, was based on the original Jason and the Argonauts myth but concerned a group of elderly tourists coming to Symi on holiday and their young, gay rep. It is a mix of fiction and historical fact set in the present day and the past and concerns the search for The Golden Fleece. That’s not the original Golden Fleece, but something else, and the key to its whereabouts is hidden in a piece of music. This novel was written under my real name, James Collins, and you can find it here.

A Treatise On The Art Of Deciphering, And Of Writing In Cypher: With An Harmonic Alphabet (1772) by Philip Thicknesse

Wow, that’s a title and a half, but it is actually a real book. I now have a copy of it and dipped in and out of it when writing my current novel. It was written in 1772 and plays a part in the story. Naturally, I couldn’t let the name of the author go by without at least one character making a reference to Thicknesse. It is too good a word to turn down. (Inserts a wink emoji.)

Currently, I am working on the 10th book in the Clearwater Mystery series, ‘The Clearwater Inheritance’, and once again, I have used the device of a musical code. Or rather, a message hidden in a piece of music. It has always fascinated me – the thought that it might be possible to write a message into music that could only be understood by someone who investigated deeply enough, but there has always been the question, How?
How can you translate musical notes into the English language, create a message, and still make the music sound like music?

I shan’t tell you exactly how because that would spoil the story for you, and actually, it’s hard to do in text without bamboozling the non-music-reading reader and without showing images of a score while playing an audio track, but…

The current state of my notebook.

One of the simplest ways to do it would be to have each note represent one letter. Say you started on the note Middle-C, and every semitone going upwards was the next letter of the alphabet. Even if you’re non-musical, you might guess that the word AWAY, for example, would have the melody bouncing from bottom to top of the range in a very untuneful manner.

Then there’s the question of where to start? Who’s to say what note is A and what is Z? There are 88 notes on a modern piano keyboard, any one of which could be A with the consecutive alphabet running up or down. And how do you handle chords and harmonies?

As you might see, it’s a lovely idea but hard to explain, and for this reason, I researched musical codes to see if it was a viable device.

It is, and I am certainly not the first to have thought of it.

Musical Cryptograms

The B A C H motif

A musical cryptogram is a cryptogrammatic sequence of musical symbols, a sequence which can be taken to refer to an extra-musical text by some ‘logical’ relationship, usually between note names and letters. The most common and best known examples result from composers using ciphered versions of their own or their friends’ names as themes or motifs in their compositions. Much rarer is the use of music notation to encode messages for reasons of espionage or personal security. [Wiki]

There are two principal techniques, the German and the French. The most common musical cryptogram is the ‘B-A-C-H’ motif. JS Bach used this, but in the German-speaking world, the note B-flat was actually B, and B-natural was H, so he had more letters available. The French version is even more compliacted. I was interested to learn that several well-known composers have used a musical cryptogram, Bach, Schumann, Brahms, Ravel, Poulenc, Shostakovich and Elgar, among many others.

There is also a method of coding a message in music by way of patterns, where the shape of the phrase represents a letter. If you are interested, check out Atlas Obscura.
With so many possibilities to draw on, I eventually decided that to keep it simple was the best way forward, and so, I was delighted to find a quote that said, In its simplest form, the letters A through G can be used to spell out words or codes. [Ludwig Van Toronto.] I decided to limit myself to seven letters, the basic music notes as used in the English notation system. (Don’t get me started on do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti and the Solfège system of notation.) This naturally presented me with other challenges.

Limited Letters

Michael Haydn’s musical cipher of 1808

How to create a message using only seven letters? The starting place was an anagram solver and typing in A through to G to see what came up. Not a lot. So, bearing in mind that any of those seven letters can repeat as many times as necessary, I searched for anagrams made up from letters such as A and E (the only available vowels) plus DD, GG, F, CCC… and so on. Well, that took some time, but eventually threw up a list of words I could legitimately use.

After that, it was a case of putting the most useful ones in the right order and then building the answer to the riddle around them. I mean, there was no point the message reading ‘You will find it at the zoo’, because, from that sentence, I would only be able to use F D A E. But hang on… FDAE can be arranged to make FADE, and if I add another D, I can make FADED. What’s more, that doesn’t sound too bad if played as music. So, what something is made up of only the seven letters and might be faded? A faded DEAD… A faded DEAF… BED… DEED…

A DEED is a legal document, and an inheritance would be written into a legal document, a deed or, in this case, a fee tail, also called an entail, but still a DEED…

Finally

I’ll stop chatting there as I don’t want to give anything else away about what I am currently writing. All you need to know is that you’re in for a treat with the next Clearwater, and you don’t need to be a musician to understand the code. You can leave that to Jasper Blackwood…

Jasper Blackwood at work, 1890

By the way, The Clearwater Inheritance is currently going through its third draft, and I have booked it in for its final proofreading towards the end of May.

I have contacted Anjela about the cover and aim to have the novel released early in June. If you’ve not read Banyak & Fecks, you might want to slip that one in before the publication date because some of what happens in The Clearwater Inheritance relates to what happens in the prequel, Banyak & Fecks.

And now, back to 1890 and musical cryptography…

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

Unspeakable Acts: Male Sex Workers in Victorian London

October is LGBT History month in America. Founded in 1994 by a high school teacher, October was chosen because schools were in session and October 11th is Coming Out Day. Each year, the organisation celebrates 31 LGBT icons and asks for nominations for the following year. There’s a link to the website at the end of this post.

So, what has that to do with the title of this post and my series set in the 1880s? Let me explain.

Astute readers may have noticed the titles of the first four books in The Clearwater Mystery series, and how each one employs a word once used to describe gay men; Deviant Desire, Twisted Tracks, Unspeakable Acts, and Fallen Splendour. Yes, I did that on purpose, and the second word of each title relates to the story:

Deviant Desire – Archer’s (then considered) deviant love for Silas, and the Ripper’s deviant desire to kill. Twisted Tracks – the trail the Ripper leaves

The Royal Opera House, London, one of the settings for ‘Unspeakable Acts’

as he tries to escape, and the finale happens on top of a moving train. Unspeakable Acts – set at the Royal Opera House where a speech is unspeakable because the speaker may be murdered if he makes it and an opera also has acts. It also relates to the activities that go on inside the Cleaver Street male brothel. Fallen Splendour – based on Tennyson’s line, ‘The splendour falls on castle walls’, where the splendour of the characters’ friendship flourishes, we end up at Larkspur Hall, Clearwater’s country home, and we have a splendid appearance of a particular character right at the end.

Each one is a play on words, fine. So, what has that to do with the title and male sex workers in Victorian London let alone LGBT History month?

Well, I thought, ‘Who might be a gay icon from the 1880s?’ , if such a thing took place and being gay then was acceptable/legal. I decided, apart from Clearwater who is fictitious, I might have nominated John Saul.

John (actually christened Johannes also known as Jack, or Irish Jack) was born in Dublin in 1857.

The Sins of Jack Saul

He was involved in a homosexual scandal at Dublin Castle in 1884, came to London and worked briefly at Drury Lane, but was also a sex worker. The book ‘The Sins of Jack Saul’ by Glenn Chandler is available from Amazon if you want the full story. John/Jack Saul is also thought to be the author of a famous gay, erotic novel, ‘The Sins of the City of the Plain’ (1881), and I can tell you, it’s an eye-opener. I don’t know whether nominating such a chap is the right thing to do, he was in and out of court, but never actually imprisoned (as far as I can remember), probably because he entertained titled and wealthy gentlemen, and they didn’t want to risk being exposed. Still, having researched what such young men had to do to survive, I’ll use him as my imaginary nomination for LGBT History Month 1888 on behalf of all sex-working young men of the time.

Currently, I am researching and writing a Clearwater prequel, ‘Banyak & Fecks’, and these two characters turn to sex work to stay alive. Every time I search for resources about male prostitution in London in the 1880s, I come up against three main categories: Jack Saul, telegraph boys, and the Cleveland Street Scandal. (The trial of Oscar Wilde is beyond my current era, so that hasn’t happened yet.)

I have used all three as inspiration in my series.

A bust, possibly of Jack Saul, found in Paris.

Left: No photograph of Saul is known to exist. However, in 2020 Glenn Chandler was contacted by a reader of his biography who owned a paper-mache head of a smiling young male which had been purchased in a Paris flea market years before. It bears a metal plate reading “Jack Saul 1890”

Silas Hawkins (of the Clearwater Mysteries) is loosely based on the Jack Saul from ‘The Sins of the City…’. Although Silas a very good-looking young fellow, he is not effeminate but does have a fresh-looking, beardless face and sparkling blue eyes. The Jack Saul of the story is also described as having …an Adonis-like figure… especially about what snobs call the fork of his trousers, where evidently he was favoured by nature by a very extraordinary development of the male appendage. A description which inspired my character, Andrej (Fecks), and the fact that Thomas in my series has auburn hair the same as Jack Saul and an extraordinary development of his own, isn’t coincidental either.

Telegraph boys were also notorious for giving ‘extras’ for a small fee. These young men, some as young as thirteen, were employed to deliver telegrams, the equivalent of today’s texting, I guess. Smartly dressed in tight blue uniforms, fit from walking, and employed to knock at the doors of private homes, you can imagine how gay men, closeted by necessity, might find them tempting, and as the youths weren’t well paid, ‘tips’ were often welcome.

James Wright enters my series in book one as a telegraph boy, but only to deliver a message and make eyes at Thomas, and comes into his own in book two, ‘Twisted Tracks.’ When younger, James, like many young men in the service, had been approached by an older messenger who suggests he could do well if he gave ‘extras.’ James isn’t interested. Later, the same older boy, Eddie Lovemount, tries to interest him in a male brothel in Cleaver Street, and again, James isn’t interested.

However, in book three, ‘Unspeakable Acts’, Silas, on seeing Viscount Clearwater’s old school friend at dinner, thinks he remembers the man from a time he was taken to Cleaver Street (by Lovemount) to consider becoming a kept ‘Mary-Ann.’ Silas declines, but, in the story, has to return there to discover if Clearwater’s friend uses the brothel, and James assists him. In the house, Silas witnesses what would have been called unspeakable acts taking place, and parts of the mystery start to come together.

Hopefully, you can see the connections I am making here.

Newspaper illustration of The Cleveland Street Scandal.

Jack Saul was called as a witness in the Cleveland Street Scandal which came about after Thomas Swinscow, a General Post Office messenger was investigated for having too much money about his person. Swinscow admitted that he made his cash working for Charles Hammond at 19 Cleveland Street, a male brothel. A couple of other young men involved were called Newlove and Thickbroom (honestly), so I think I was justified in calling my brothel agent Lovemount. Another was called George Wright, but it was coincidental that I called my character James Wright.

In Unspeakable Acts, I refer to the brothel as being at Cleaver Street for the same reason Whitechapel is Greychurch, and Limehouse is Limedock because I wanted to be creative with certain facts. For example, the Cleveland Street Scandal didn’t break until later in 1889, and my story takes place in November 1888, and in Deviant Desire, the Ripper is killing rent boys, not female sex workers.

Let’s get back to ‘Unspeakable Acts’ and LGBT History Month, and let’s do it via ‘Banyak & Fecks’ which is still currently ‘on the typewriter.’

This prequel fills in information about Silas and Andrej (Banyak & Fecks as they nickname each other), and part of their backstory is about selling their bodies for sex in order to eat. It’s nothing like ‘The Sins of the City of the Plain’ in that it is not graphic, though we’re not left in any doubt what they have to agree to do to earn their money. As I was/am writing it, and researching into what life would have been like for them, and while trying to find research other than Saul, messenger boys and Cleveland Street, it occurred to me how dangerous the job would have been (and still can be, I imagine).

Silas Hawkins depicted at The Royal Opera House

These young men of the past risked all kinds of disease and infections from lice to syphilis. They risked death, as their female counterparts did at the hands of Jack the Ripper. They suffered abuse in the name of fetish, such as hinted at in ‘Unspeakable Acts.’ Some were used as male models and went willingly to the studios, while others were coerced and then forced into pornography. Meanwhile, although the death penalty for sodomy in the UK was abolished in 1861, thanks to section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Labouchere amendment, ‘gross indecency’ was a crime carrying a penalty of up to two years with hard labour.

The thing that got me in the Cleveland Street scandal and other trials of telegraph boys and male sex workers was that if a scandal did break, or an arrest was made, it was usually the victim who was punished, not the instigator. The victim being the youth who undertook the work because he had no choice, the instigators often being rich, titled or older men with the contacts, finances and ability to get themselves off – if you will excuse the term.

Which is why, if now was 1888, and I was voting for my LGBT icon of the day, I’d vote for Jack Saul, deviant though he no doubt was, and through him, Silas, Fecker and all those other lads who had no option but to use the only thing they had to make money, their bodies.

Links:

LGBT History Month
The Sins of Jack Saul by Glenn Chandler
The Sins of the City of the Plain
The Clearwater Mystery Series, by Jackson Marsh

Slumming it in Victorian London

Slumming it in Victorian London

While researching for my Clearwater Series, and ‘Banyak & Fecks’ in particular, I have been investigating the slums of Victorian London. Thanks to books like Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London by Seth Koven, and websites such as www.victorianlondon.org/ and The British Newspaper Archive, I’ve learnt a little about slums and slumming.

You often hear the phrase ‘slumming it’, you may even use it, and you know what it means today. But did you know when and how it originated? (I expect you do, but just in case, I’ll explain anyway.)

Origins of word usage, ‘slumming’

I searched through the newspaper archive looking specifically for the word ‘Slumming’ and found a couple of instances from the 18th century. They interested me because I thought the word didn’t come into use until the mid-19th century. They turned out to be spelling errors and were meant to read ‘summing’, so that made sense. Between 1800 and 1849 there were 77 instances of usage in the newspapers kept in the archive, and early instances were, again, typos, ‘summoning’, ‘slumping’ and similar instead of slumming.

In the second half of the 19th century, however, instances rose sharply to 3,741, and that figure was surpassed in the first half of the 20th century, at 3,799. I wasn’t about to check every single instance, so refined my search to the 1800s, as I am currently writing in that decade, and found most usages came in 1884, January, to be precise. Interestingly, that’s the year when, in my current work in progress, Banyak and Fecker meet.

So, from that basic hunt, I concluded ‘slumming’ as a word began in the mid-19th century, as I thought. But what was it?

This excerpt from The St James Gazette explains it neatly.

[Incurably idle, defiantly vicious, delicious horror, valuable acquisition at dinner parties… just about sums it up!]

Simply put, it became fashionable for the well to do, the West-enders, or middle and upper classes, to take themselves off to the slums of Chelsea, Whitechapel and other places, to see ‘how the other half lived.’ Abhorrent to us these days, perhaps, and the equivalent of rubbernecking a road accident, but that was how things were. Parties would be organised, some daring the streets and slums on their own, others finding a local guide, and not all of them dropping shillings to those whose homes they nosed around in.

Examples from newspapers and publications

There are plenty of mentions in publications of the day, and I picked out just a couple of examples for you.

“Now, then, who will go slumming down Chelsea way? It is apparently as nasty, and is far more convenient for West-enders to get at, by road, rail, and river, than Whitechapel.”

[The Sportsman, July 16th 1887]

Slumming appeared in literature both serious and comedic, such as I found in  ‘A working class tragedy’ by H. J. Bramsbury (chapter XXXVII), which appeared in a publication called Justice, on February 16th 1889.

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You might be able to see from the screenshot I took, how a visitor asks if friends would like to go slumming, and when asked what that is, explains: ‘It is quite the thing now. How the poor live is quite the newest idea. You go around and visit the slums as they are called.’

When asked what good it does, the visitor replies, ‘Well, I think it makes one feel thankful that one doesn’t belong to the lower orders.’

‘But what good do the poor derive from it?’

‘Oh, I don’t know that it does them much good except you give them a shilling occasionally… It’s quite astonishing what the interesting inhabitants are willing to do for a shilling.’

We might gape at such an attitude these days, and I’m hoping the story was satirical, but it highlighted not only what slumming was, but the upper classes’ attitude towards it as it because a popular fad. What also caught my attention was the institution that the poor would do ‘astonishing’ things for twelve pence. (Banyak and Fecks charge more or less than a shilling depending on what ‘service’ they provide.)

Slumming even turns up in popular songs of the time, as this verse from ‘The Barrel Organ’ attests.

Since high society first found a pleasure new in “slumming,”
And visiting an East-end court was deemed a task becoming
We’ve oft been told how sad a state the “masses” now are in
And what foul wretchedness is bred of ignorance and gin.

[Quoted in ‘Truth’, February 23rd 1888]

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A charitable reason.

Some slummers, you might call them, went to the East End and elsewhere for charitable reasons, to see conditions for themselves, and as slumming became more popular, so more people learnt of the conditions in which the poor lived. You can find a page at Victorian London here which gives an excerpt from Dottings of a Dosser, by Howard J. Goldsmid, 1886, which includes, “Slumming” became a popular amusement; and with this amusement, and the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the matter, the public conscience was salved.

Here is an excerpt from my work in progress, ‘Banyak & Fecks’ (first draft).

On dry nights, the visitors would meet at the stone arch, warm in winter furs but cold with apprehension, speaking in hushed voices and telling each other what they expected to see.
Some came to see what they could do.
‘I believe there is talk of something called the Jew’s Temporary Shelter’, one said. ‘I may contribute to the fund.’
‘I was at Keeble,’ said another. ‘We were instrumental in establishing the Oxford House Settlement. It’s in Bethnal Green.’
It was, and it offered a club for boys, a gymnasium and a library. It hosted concerts for the poor and brought them together beneath the word of God at Bible readings while being occupied by those from the upper-classes keen to experience life side-by-side with the destitute.
‘We must all play our part,’ one woman instructed. ‘It is our Christian duty to help the unfortunates and to understand what they endure. Which reminds me, Marjory, are you invited to Sir Malcolm’s ball?’

So, slumming was a popular pastime in the years my current work in progress is set, and I have used it as a plot device. Now then, if you promise me you understand this is only the first draft, and you will be kind, let me share a little of it with you.

It’s late in 1884, Silas (Banyak) has met Andrej (Fecks), but has not yet found the courage to sell his body on the street. Instead, using his wits, he has noticed slumming tours and decides to set himself up as a guide. As usual, I have taken historical facts and real locations and mixed them with fiction. Silas is taking a group of slummers into Greychurch…

‘First of all, gents, you’ve got your loafers, them as who’s the drones in this working-class hive,’ he would say as he led his party along Cheap Street. ‘Me old dad were what you’d call a loafer, ’cos he’d carry bread baskets from Simpson’s bakery over at Five Dials right across to Old Nichol Street through there, and he’d do it ten times each morning before the sun came up, rain or shine.’ A complete lie, but no-one knew.
He’d done his research and knew his facts, however, and there was enough truth in his speech to satisfy the cynical and put down those who thought they knew more than he did.
‘The Old Nichol,’ he would say, quoting from a publication he’d found, ‘is the place between Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green. It’s got twenty streets in it with seven hundred and thirty knackered houses where something like six thousand people live. I don’t want to lose any of you decent folks in there, so we ain’t going in ’cos it’s the worst slum in the East End, and there’s more interesting ones for you gents in Greychurch.’

[If you’ve not read The Clearwater Mysteries, Greychurch is Whitechapel. Silas’ facts about the Old Nichol are true.]

He’d stop outside the doss house to give the lad across the street time to count the number and collect just enough meat pies for his tray. Martin Tucker was somehow related Aunt Molly, and by the time Silas’ party emerged from the doss house, would be on the steps with his angelic face cleaned, his smile broad and inviting, but barefoot in his ragged clothes. On some nights, after selling his pies and slipping Silas a percentage, he’d make eyes at the men in the group, and it wasn’t uncommon for a gentleman to hang back, break from the pack and follow the lad into the next door yard. Martin was thirteen.
‘Not all the men what stays here’s a loafer, but the place is men only.’ Silas continued his talk in the lobby, giving Cormack time to check the room they were going to see, hide any women under the beds and lock the children in a cupboard in case any of the tourists were officials in disguise. ‘Most of the men’s seen better days. They got respectable artisans what the waves of trade-depression has overtaken and submerged.’ Some of his patter was lifted directly from the St. James Gazette. ‘They got clerks elbowed out of a berth by the competition of smart young Germans. There’s men what were once shopkeepers who got ruined ’cos the working-folk couldn’t afford their business. Even professional men like solicitors and surgeons can be found among the motley crowd in a kip-‘ouse kitchen. Right, let’s see a room. You might want to tuck your trousers into your boots, Sir.’
‘Oh? Why.’
‘Nippers, mate. Fleas.’
Some of his paying customers asked him personal questions, such as where he lived, and he was able to reply honestly.
‘I got a little gaff with me best mate, Miss, down Limedock. Andrej his name is.’ The honesty didn’t last for long. ‘Comes from Russian royalty, but got kicked out of his country ’cos he married the wrong girl. They killed his kids and his wife, stole his land, so he had to come here. Now works shifting sugar sacks and rocks down at the Lower Pool.’
‘How tragic. But he is an immigrant?’
‘That’s right, Madam.’
‘And you share lodgings with such a man? Why?’
Sometimes Silas had to fight the temptation to punch his guests. ‘Look at it his way, love. Who’d you rather share a bed with, rats or royalty? Watch where you tread here, someone’s had too much gin and left their lunch on the step. Right, this is where I used to sleep…’

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Finally

The racism suggested in that scene was prevalent, whipped up by newspapers much as it is today, and took a form of classism. The poor of the East End, the immigrants and refugees, were dragging the city down, taking jobs and spreading disease, so said the newspapers then as some, while slumming it in a different fashion, do today, but that’s a subject for another day.

Banyak & Fecks’ is still being written. It is a prequel to The Clearwater Mysteries and a standalone novel, not a mystery, and not MM Romance. Instead, it is a story of friendship and survival. I aim to have it ready later in 2020.