The Things You Learn!

Easter Promotion:

All these books are on Kindle Unlimited, and they are all romantic. Many have an image of a hunky or topless guy on the cover, or else the heroine, because all are romantic MM or FF in some way. As you can see, my Guardians of the Poor is in there with other top titles. Feel free to click through, then click the covers to see more details of the books, and if there’s something you like, head on over and grab it from KU or get yourself a Kindle copy.


The Things You Learn

Right now, I am working on ‘Where There’s a Will’, the fourth Delamere Files mystery set in 1892. In this story, Will and Jack Merrit are charged with attending the reading of a will. Why? They don’t know. Where? On a remote island in the Bristol Channel. I have based my island on the isle of Lundy, famous for its lighthouse, but also, for so much more. To get there, my characters have to travel to a place called Appledore on the north Devon coast. They could have travelled from Bideford, further upstream, but their island comes with its own ferryman, and I wanted a smaller location for the ferry to leave from.

While I was looking at the maps, and reading up a little about the area, I discovered that it wasn’t far from a place called Westward Ho! I knew that that was also the name of a novel., and I couldn’t help doing a little research because the character who talks about this place is something of a know-it-all (it’s not one of the Merrit brothers) and I wanted him to show us he is educated and knows all about this area.

This became a question of what came first, the novel or the village?

Westward Ho! Google Maps.

Strangely enough, it was the novel. Published in 1885, ‘Westward Ho!’ by Charles Kingsley was set in Bideford, nearby, and its story begins during the reign of Elizabeth I. The book was a bestseller, and entrepreneurs saw a way to use it to develop tourism in the area. The Northam Burrows Hotel and Villa Building Company, chaired by Isaac Newton Wallop, 5th Earl of Portsmouth, was formed in 1863, and to take advantage of the Victorian’s passion for seaside holidays, they called their hotel the Westward Ho!-tel.

Same place, 1890s-1910 map

Here’s a small advertisement for it from the North Devon Journal, June 1865.

As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the village they created for tourism, they called Westward Ho!, including the exclamation mark, meaning it is the only British place name to have punctuation. There are others around the world. Hamilton in the USA officially changed its name to Hamilton!, and in 1986, in Quebec, Canada, you can find a place called Saint Louis-du-Ha!-Ha!

Ha-ha! Now you know, and you may well have known already, but I didn’t, and it’s just this kind of unusual thing that makes research such fun.

Now, I am getting back to chapter six of the new book, and will leave you with a reminder to have a browse around the KU promo I’m currently a part of and see if you can find any new authors and titles to add to your ‘must-be-read’ list.

The Hackney Workhouse (Notes)

Three of my books are in a Kindle Unlimited promotion throughout March. One of the books is ‘Guardians of the Poor’, the first Larkspur Academy Mystery. Here’s the image of the promo page and the link straight to the exclusive list of titles from me and other authors of historical fiction. I’m particularly interested in the ‘Murder on the…’ series, because of the steam trains.

Link

If you’ve read ‘Guardians of the Poor’ you will know that much of the story concerns the Hackney Workhouse. In fact, the story is about more than that. Yes, I researched what I could about the actual workhouse, as I do, and I realised I’d actually been into parts of it when it was being used as a hospital. The story, though, is also about the Academy and its setting up, and the MC of the book, Dalston Blaze. Through his eyes, we experience not only workhouse life but also we get our first view of the academy, and we meet the Clearwater series characters from the point of view of someone outside of the organisation, someone who’s not yet on Archer’s ‘crew.’ The story, though, is also very much about Joe Tanner, who is deaf, and I put a lot of work into researching what his life would have been like too.

Anyway, the point of today’s post rises from that book, because it’s one in the promo, and because I was sifting through some notes for it, and I found the following. I’m leaving it here as a point of general interest for anyone who is interested in the Hackney Workhouse, Homerton, London, in the late nineteenth century.

My notes, as usual, are taken from a variety of sources including newspapers and journals of the time (quoted), and are in no particular order, and have not been altered since I made them.

Workhouse Details

Plan of the Hackney Workhouse

Hackney: Lower Homerton (N div.)

By 1870s the main block was an inverted U shaped fronting onto the high street.
North side, offices and stores.
West: females.
East: Males.
South, a long block with chapel, children’s school, dining rooms, day rooms.
Either side of southern block were workshops; stone breaking shed on men’s side.
Admin block centre east of the site, casual wards and stone shed fronting Sidney Road.

Roughly 600 inmates (1866)
400 + in 1881 census

Rooms mainly low and narrow but with windows so good light, ditto stairs. ‘A confined air to the whole building.’ Male/female wards on ground floor are dark and cheerless.

I wish that the same could be said of other places where “the Poor Law” is wrested to a harsher punishment than that of the criminal code, and where the grim rule and oppressive dead level of the workhouse ward is but a preparation of the youthful pauper for the no more repulsive discipline of the gaol.

The librarian and superintendent of the Ragged School held in the house that was once the Thieves’ Kitchen, but now filled up-stairs and down with children perspiring in their nightly work of dividing a hundred scholars into classes amongst half a dozen teachers, and distributing the books which they are allowed to take home with them to read.

A blank wooden gate squeezed into a small space in the midst of the neighbouring shops, and indicated by a hoard, on which are painted the regulations for granting medical assistance, and the times at which the applicants for parochial relief will be received by the “Master,” is, as I am informed, the entrance to one of the most constantly occupied, although by no means the largest of the London workhouses, where a large proportion of the inmates come and go so frequently that they might, in some other districts, be almost regarded as “casuals,” and receive no definite settlement in the regular wards.

Christmas at the Hackney Workhouse

Dalston’s Childhood

(Based on a real case)

5 years old. Board of Guardians became his legal guardian when his mother died when he was five. (She died in a fire in Homerton, and was brought in with child, but no-one knew her name and so he was known as ‘The child from the Dalston Blaze’, because that’s where the fire was. The title stuck and became Dalston Blaze.)

The Matron, childless, saw the opportunity to keep him as her own so he was then brought up in the workhouse under the care of the staff.

6 to 13 years old. Sleeping in one room with 23 other children ‘the infant nursery’

Three hours a day instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, Christian religion at the workhouse school.

Corporal punishment on boys only and only by the master.

Boys under 14 could be flogged, but not over 14!

14 able to work, but Matron didn’t want him going to the ships/army, or to local work so kept him in work on site.

Sleep and beds

Seen in the bare wards, where the long rows of low bedsteads, each covered with the same pattern of counterpane, make even the dull walls more monotonous; in the cleanly scrubbed floors; the absence of any furniture save that which is required for the absolute necessities of the place; the walls against which the long rows of bedsteads stand have been coloured a pale blue, as an improvement on the sickly yellowish tint which is peculiar to such apartments.

  • Flock placed on iron bedsteads, with iron laths or sacking.
  • Red, wool rugs (blankets), decent bed covers.
  • Chamber pots under beds.
  • Thin sheets.
  • Very little furniture, no lockers or tables only a few chairs, no mirrors (men’s ward) and no prints/decoration.
  • Chests for foot warmers.
  • A metal sink per ward with soap and two combs (shared, I guess), no hair brush.
  • Towels supplied twice per week.

Dining and food

  • Allowance per adult person:
  • 7 ounces of meat without bones
  • 2 ounces of butter
  • 4 ounces of cheese
  • 1 pound of bread
  • 3 pints of beer
  • Children’s allowance at Mistresses discretion

Listen to the murmured talk, which resolves itself into remarks about food; and then remember that here, as in a prison, extra rations, and an increase in meat and the privilege of beer, are the great topics of conversation. Well they may be, for that dietary scale hanging on the strict enough in its provisions, even if they were administered according to the intentions of the Poor-law Board – is at the mercy of guardians and master and matron, and may be reduced so much below prison fare, that life in a workhouse comes to be but a continuance of that struggle against hunger which preceded it in the world outside those grim brick walls.

Some three hundred paupers, old men, women, and children are at dinner.

at a cross-table under a high desk like a pulpit, the master himself without a coat, and with his throat released from both collar and neckerchief- is carving the meat, and weighing out the allowance for each person according to the dietary scale, which differs but slightly from that of the union where I lately made the acquaintance of the pauper of the north-eastern suburb.

Tin plate and cup, wooden spoon

The ordinary workhouse gruel, known to the paupers as “skillet,”

Hygiene, Health, the sick

For every morning (I am informed) the wards of this great straggling building are scrubbed and purified. The thin withered anxious faces which peer upwards from the white pillows, or rest in a slumber so like death.

Men with VD are placed in the ‘itch ward.’ (Small in capacity.)

Lying-in ward (a small room for birthing).

Imbeciles have their own rooms and day rooms.

A kitchen in the sick ward, but food comes 150 yards from main kitchens.

One fixed bath and one portable bath.

Badly ventilated generally, though some has been put in.

Too many men in each ward.

Only two paid nurses.

A pauper nurse and a helper to each ward men paid 1/6d each week.

Medical officer comes two/three times per week, daily if there’s an epidemic.

Rules (read aloud each week)

[These rules from the Hackney Workhouse 1750s, but (in my story) still in use.]

Morning prayers or lose a meal.

Not leave house without permission.

No liquor, quarrelling or fighting or lose a day’s meals.

Work or be kept on bread and water.

Wake bell at five every morning between Michaelmas and Lady Day.

Bed at nine in summer, eight in winter.

Bells for mealtimes.

No smoking in bed or bedrooms.

Roll call at six, one (lunch) and by eight (winter) if not there, punished.

General good behaviour, no telling lies or else sat on a stool in the dining room with a note pinned reading Infamous Lyar and no meal.

No defacing or graffiti.

You must not… Hang washing outside, go through the velvet lined door (staff).

‘When will somebody come and take me away?’

Clothes

‘Fisherman short coat’ (see pinterest)

Wards

The effect of this is less observable in the boys, who are now coming out in single file, and dressed (sensibly enough this warm weather) in holland-pinafores over their corduroy trousers. Some of them are still masticating the last of the most tasty mouthful reserved as the finish of their mid-day meal; and, as they pass, hear a general resemblance to the other inmates, inasmuch as they stare at me, while they ruminate like so many young cows.

There are amongst both boys and girls many sickly, deformed, and stunted children who will, perhaps, carry with them to the grave these heritages of the gutter and the foul lodging-house where they struggled, like unhealthy plants, into such life as they possess; but in almost all of them I am rejoiced to see something of that elastic spirit which shows that here, too, the old suppression of every hope and promise of youth has been superseded by a gentler and more beneficent appreciation of the difference between poverty and crime.

Again, in the workhouses the church bells may be heard within the whitewashed walls, especially in the stillness of the night, and, when they have the long account of twelve to proclaim, how many are lying awake, staring at the dark and listening! In the old folks’ dormitory, for instance, a woeful watch-night is it for scores of those whose shrunken cheek presses the hard pillow, and the more so, perhaps, after the mild excitement that Christmas brings into even a workhouse ward. It brings couples together that at ordinary times the Poor-law sets asunder; and there is the banquet of roast beef and pudding, and the half-pint of beer, and maybe the unwonted luxury of a quarter- ounce of snuff or a half-ounce of tobacco. All very proper and enjoyable to such an extent that for the time being it makes the grey- haired paupers forget everything but the treat in progress. But the worst of it is, after such stirring times, there comes reaction.

The Master

The master is in a great heat from the exertion of [- 71-] carving and weighing, although he is a tall muscular gentleman, with somewhat of a military bearing, and (notwithstanding his open collar) a way of holding his head, as though he had at one time looked at the world over a stiff leather stock.

daily visit to the different wards after resuming his neckerchief, and a particularly fresh-looking linen coat.


Sources

The Pauper, The Thief and the Convict, by Thomas Archer, 1865 – Chapter 4 – A London Workhouse

Mysteries of Modern London, by One of the Crowd [James Greenwood], [1883]

http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Hackney/

1881 census

http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Hackney/Hackney1881.shtml#Inmates

Banyak, Fecks and Some Other Notes

I was digging around my files this morning and came across my folder for ‘Banyak & Fecks.’ This is one of my favourite novels, and the one I am most proud of. This is partly because it’s not like the others in terms of plot. It’s about two people from vastly different backgrounds meeting, needing each other, surviving, and becoming platonically entwined forever. The fact they are both in their late teens/early twenties adds a level of emotional and sexual confusion. What I’m also pleased with is the research, and while writing it, I made some notes about various historical facts and figures that come into play in the story. Even if they are only background, they still have to be correct.

So, after today’s news, which follows in a moment, I’ll show you the notes I made. First though, a couple of other matters:

Helen P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction books. She is currently running a series of short interviews with other historical fiction writers with the theme, ‘Why I write historical fiction.’

On 20th February (i.e. Tuesday) she will have a short piece about me on her blog, which you can find by clicking this link: Helen Schrader.

Mardi Gras Promotion. This promo is still running if you want to see what’s o offer. Head to the link and find a raft of new titles in various genres/niches, all LGBTQI+ and all there to celebrate Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras and queer fiction. Click this link: Mardi Gras Promo.

And now, to my background notes for Banyak & Fecks. Bear in mind, these are only notes, and they might be a bit all over the place and/or incomplete. While posting, I’ll see if I have any images hanging around the folder that I can also put up.


Banyak & Fecks General Notes and Words

Some are taken directly from newspapers and documents of the time.

Cabs 1879

Altogether there are 4,142 Hansom cabs, and 4,120 Clarence, or four-wheel cabs, in London.

Light-carts

Dock work 1883

The pay is fivepence an hour, and the day’s work lasts for eight hours. It is miscellaneous, and a man is expected to put his hand to anything in the shape of loading or unloading that the occasion may require.

Destitution

Arranged for a plain burial which is to cost 6 guineas.

Let me describe this room. It was the first floor back; so small that the bed left little room to move. She took it unfurnished, for 2/9 a week; the furniture she brought was: the bed, one chair, a chest of drawers, and a broken deal table. On some shelves were a few plates, cups, etc. Over the mantelpiece hung several pictures, which she had preserved from old days. There were three engravings: a landscape, a piece by Landseer, and a Madonna of Raphael. There was a portrait of Byron, and one of Tennyson. There was a photograph of myself, taken 12 years ago, — to which, the landlady tells me, she attached special value, strangely enough. Then there were several cards with Biblical texts. and three cards such as are signed by those who “take the pledge,” — all bearing date during the last six months.

Andrej (Fecks) came from the northeast of Odesa in Ukraine. He walked from there to Genoa in Italy aged 14/15/16 before finding passage on a ship to London.

Clothing

An Ulster: a man’s long, loose overcoat of rough cloth, typically with a belt at the back. The Ulster is a Victorian working daytime overcoat, with a cape and sleeves. The Ulster is distinguished from the Inverness by the length of the cape; in the Ulster, this cape only reaches the elbows, allowing free movement of the forearms.

Pennylicks – ice cream bowls

Graphophone – the name and trademark of an improved version of the phonograph.

Slums (1880)

The yard pump takes two, one to pump while one washes.

Washtop (the copper) over the fire, with tin lid and ‘chumney’, hot and sweaty, used also for washing clothes.

A room: double bed, trunk, table, 2 chairs, fire, candles.

Cheap foreign labour after depression.

40k population expansion.

Jewish immigrants from pogroms in Russia and the east.

Largest immigrant population = Irish, 2nd largest  = Russians

Work

Unskilled = lucky to get two week’s work out of a month

Pillars at the docks either side of gates

Thousands at the gates every day

10k people in East End after 6k jobs

Police at gates

Wait hours to rush through, some got trampled

‘The cage’ where foremen stood to choose, safe, while thousands crushed to be chosen

Unloading barrels, bales and sacks that rubbed skin from back

5d an hour

Fecks, young, tall, strong, some English so can better fight for work

Banyak & Fecks leads into Deviant Desire which concerns the East End Ripper murders of 1888 – these, I based on the Jack the Ripper murders of that year. Here’s the front of the Illustrated Police News following the killing of Catherine Eddowes.

Sweatshops – Sweated Workshops (tailor factories)

Refugees met off the boat by ‘sweater sharks’

Wheelbarrows to cart supplies

No pay until an order is done

‘Greeners’ = lowliest tasks, new to the biz

18 hours a day, six days a week, 34p per hour in today’s money

One 22-year-old greener worked 22 hours per day until he hanged himself

Pawn brokers

Trade in clothes to pay for bed or rope house

No tick (credit) for transients

Buying bread and fat in slices from shop

Weekly rents in today’s money £30.00, £13.00, £8.00

Costermongers

12,000 in the 1880s

Eels, five per penny for sheep’s trotters (80k per week sold)

Silas

Telling jokes for pennies – Silas, the difference between a hollow tube and a daft Dutchman? One’s a hollow cylinder, the other’s a silly Hollander – etc.

Showing the rich around the slums, slumming it, slum tourism, won’t make him popular

Slum fiction

Human novelty exhibits

And that’s where my notes run out. If you haven’t read it, and want to know how all those various subjects add up and tie in, head to the Amazon page, add it to your TBR list, read it in Kindle Unlimited, or order yourself a paperback.

Research. Victorian BMD Records

You may have noticed that the researchers who work for the Clearwater Detective Agency, Duncan Fairbairn, and now, Will Merrit, often say they have to go to Somerset House. Why?

After it had been a royal palace and duke’s residence, Somerset House, as we now see it as a Georgian-era structure, was built to be a grand public building housing various government and public-benefit society offices. In 1837, following the establishment of civil registration in the United Kingdom, the Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Deaths set up his office in the North Wing of Somerset House, establishing a connection that lasted for over 130 years. This office held all birth, marriage and death certificates in England and Wales until 1970.

Somerset House in 1828 (Wiki)

That’s why my fictional researchers have to go there. However, I was writing a chapter last week in which Will Merrit says he has to visit Somerset House to find a record, and this made me think: how easy was it to find records of Births, Marriages, and Deaths (BMD records) in 1892. So, I asked a genealogist friend of mine, and this is what he said.


Brief History of British Birth, Marriage and Death Record Keeping

Funnily enough, I have had some experience of this, while I was in London with you. (We used to share a flat in Hackney, years ago.) I took the opportunity of being in London to make a personal visit to the Government Records Office (GRO) which in those days was opposite where the BBC World Service was based, near Fleet Street, after it had been moved from Somerset House. So I had to do what our Victorian ancestors would have done.

But you must remember that the BMD records were kept in two different places and there are always two copies, one in each place.

When a registration was created for a birth or a death, you went to your nearest local registration or sub-registration office, which was usually your local town or large village. Let’s say you registered a birth at a sub-registration office. 

Baptism record (my great-grandfather)

Your registrar had two identical books. He made an identical handwritten entry in each book. At the end of each quarter year, he sent both books to his main area registration office, probably the main town or city. The main registration office kept one book in its records and sent the other book to the GRO in London (in England and Wales). Scotland and Ireland had their own GROs.

In the London GRO they then made a quarterly alphabetical index. It was handwritten in a massive volume. Every Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, etc., the indices gave the full name of the person and some other details which varied over the years.

Modern copy of a Marriage certificate from 1838

When you wanted a certificate for a birth, death, or marriage, you had two choices.
You could either visit the local office where it was originally registered and ask them there to look it up. You would need a good idea of the date because they didn’t have indices there. They would get out the original volumes and leaf through until they found the correct entry. They probably wouldn’t search a decade, but they might search a year in the smaller offices. They wouldn’t let you do it. You would not be allowed to handle the books.

And then, once found, you could pay a fee, on two levels, and have either a short copy (cheaper) or a full certified copy which was just a handwritten exact copy of the entry in the book. The certified copy could be used in law cases, passports, and so on. The short copy was for your personal information but could not be used legally.

And that’s what many people did for passports. They went to their local office, told them their date of birth and got a certified copy. In the old days, poor families often hadn’t paid to have a birth certificate copy. You registered but went away without a copy. And even today you still aren’t required to pay. Registration is free, you only pay if you want a copy.

The other alternative was to go to the GRO at Somerset House or wherever. But there, you couldn’t ask them to go leafing through the books. You had to provide them with the full indexing details. So that is why the index volumes existed. The public were able to go to the shelves and get out the index volumes. These were big heavy leather-bound books, all handwritten. You got the volume for the quarter you thought was the right one, you went through and identified the likely entry and noted the GRO index references, then you took the details to the clerks’ desks and handed them in. You paid your fee for a certified copy.

What I’m not sure is what happened next in 1892. In 1995 I had to do all that, but I had to give my address and they would post it to me within a few days. Maybe in 1892 you were able to wait while someone did it.

Entry from a parish register 1604, possibly the earliest written record of one of my ancestors.

Basically, a clerk would go into the archives, look up the exact entry you had given in, and make a handwritten certified copy of the entry. Again, you yourself never got to see or handle the books. All you got was that clerk’s certified handwritten copy. He might easily make mistakes and misread them. 

In the 1990s things improved because they began photocopying the originals onto the certified copies, so you got to see a photocopy of the original and could interpret the handwriting yourself. Also, when they put the indices online, you were able to send off postal applications.

But basically, in 1892, you either went to your local office (which was much simpler), and got a cooperative clerk to leaf through. But offices might vary, and you might get officious ones that were less cooperative and demanded more precise details. Some might even show you the original entry if there was some question of interpretation. 

But if you went to the GRO it was all down to you finding the correct entry yourself using only the public shelves indices. Then handing in the reference to the clerk and applying for the copy. They would not go searching for you, or let you do it. And you certainly couldn’t take any indices home with you.

Birth record of Marie Lloyd (not a relation of mine) from 1870. Marie Lloyd appears in the next Delemaree Files book, ‘Follow the Van.’

The indices gradually got replaced by typewritten copies over the years and the original handwritten indices were retired. But of course, the typewritten copies introduced their own copying errors.

I’m sure that even in 1892 you could pay professional researchers to do this for you. Lawyers did it all the time for clients who needed certificates for legal purposes. Detective agencies too. But they would only have the same access as the public. They would not get to leaf through the originals, except maybe as a favour in a local office where they had good relationships.

Churches did the same with marriages. Churches sent their books each quarter to the local registration office.


Fascinating stuff, and if you remember Fairbairn from the Clearwater and Larkspur Mysteries, you’ll recall he had a way of getting what he wanted from the clerks. I.e. he gave out sexual favours in return for being allowed access to the actual books and records. Will Merrit’s approach is different, but even he doesn’t find it easy to discover what he needs.

What’s pleasing for me though is to see that what I imagined to be the process was accurate. It was even possible that Will would wait for a copy of a record to arrive in the post, as I wrote only two days ago!

The images, btw, are from my family history collection and are real documents. These were all found online in the past 15 years. How the internet has changed things!

Follow the Van Research

In the absence of any bright ideas for today’s blog, I decided to check out my current work-in-progress folder and see what was lurking there. As you know, the current WIP is called ‘Follow the Van’ and the story has something to do with the music halls of Victorian London. Therefore, what’s in my folder, apart from the text files, are research images that I’ve pulled from here and there.

Here’s what I have and a short explanation of why. This might give you an insight into how I put research together, although these images are the tip of a larger iceberg of reading, books, maps and online pages. Apologies if I’ve already shown you some in other posts.

First of all, this shot of the Gaiety Theatre in Strand, London. Clearly, the photo was taken later than 1892, because of the engine of the omnibus, but the building is how my characters would have seen it. The theatre lasted from 1864 (as the Strand Musick Hall) until it closed in 1938.

The Gaiety Theatre, Strand, London

A map of the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch from 1892. The estate was also known as The Old Nichol and was considered the worst slum area of London. At the time my novel is set, the estate was being changed, people were being moved out and a new estate was being built. My story concerns a theft from a dwelling in Mount Street on the eastern edge of the estate.

A cutting from a newspaper (I think it was The Times) from 1892. Yesterday, I was writing about the Charing Cross Music Hall, which is still operating today as a theatre beneath Charing Cross Station. As you can see, Marie Lloyd was on the bill at the time my story was set, and after I’ve posted this. I am heading into chapter 19, where Jack Merrit will come face to face with the woman who was on stage with his father when he died.

Cutting from The Times, September 1892

This is a shot of the inside of the Roman Road music hall, another venue that is still in use today. I’m not using this particular one in the story, but the image gives me inspiration, as does the history of the building. Now called Wilton’s Music Hall, you can find out more at its website.

Wilton’s Music Hall

This is the London Music Hall in Shoreditch. This one has had a few names, thanks to having several owners over the years. The theatre was at 95-99, Shoreditch High Street, formerly Holywell Street. Originally built in the year 1856, and called the Griffin Music Hall and Pub, it was rebuilt in 1894 as the London Theatre of Varieties. In 1896 it became known as The London Music Hall. In 1924 it became the Shoreditch Empire Theatre and was demolished in 1935.

Finally, this image of Tower Bridge that I mentioned on my Facebook page the other day. I was writing a chapter where Jack sits outside a pub overlooking the building of the ‘new’ Tower Bridge. It’s 1892, and it’s September 28th, so I looked online to see if I could find out what stage the construction was at. Lo and behold, there was a photo of the bridge taken on that exact day! Here it is, with Jack just out of shot along the bank sipping a pint and waiting for his client to arrive.

That’s it. The rest of my ‘Follow the Van’ folder is filled with the various chapters, outlines and research notes which I’ll save for another day.

The British Music Hall

Hi, all. Today, I wanted to draw together some info about the British Music Hall, because that’s currently where I am with ‘Follow the Van,’ the third Delamere mystery. I have Jeck Merrit investigating a theft and finding himself at the Gaiety Theatre, Strand, London, in 1892. As soon as I’ve posted this post, I am going to take a quick walk around my village while I put together some of Jack’s father’s backstory and then, when I return, I’ll write out the chapter. Meanwhile, here’s a quick summary of the history of the music hall, and of the Gaiety Theatre. (Photos from Arthur Lloyd.)

The British Music Hall

The British music hall was a popular form of entertainment in the United Kingdom from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. It was characterized by a variety of performances, including music, comedy, dance, and theatrical acts, typically held in large public venues known as music halls.

The music hall at Roman Road, London

The music hall tradition can be traced back to taverns and coffeehouses where live entertainment was provided alongside food and drink. As the popularity of these performances grew, purpose-built music halls began to appear in cities across the UK. Music halls were large, typically ornate venues that accommodated a diverse audience. The architecture often featured balconies, galleries, and a stage at one end. Some famous music halls included the Alhambra, the London Pavilion, and the Empire.

The variety of acts in a music hall show was one of its defining features. Performers included singers, comedians, dancers, magicians, acrobats, ventriloquists, and more. The diverse lineup catered to a broad audience with different tastes. Comedy played a significant role in music hall performances. Comedians often delivered sketches, monologues, or slapstick routines. Some well-known comedians of the time included Marie Lloyd, Dan Leno, and George Formby.

Live music was a staple of the music hall, with performers singing popular songs of the day. The songs ranged from sentimental ballads to humorous tunes. Many music hall songs became hits and were widely known. Music hall shows often encouraged audience participation. Sing-alongs and call-and-response interactions were common, creating an engaging and lively atmosphere.

The Gaiety Theatre, Aldwych, London

The music hall was a significant cultural phenomenon, serving as a popular form of entertainment for people from various social classes. It played a role in shaping popular culture and influencing later forms of entertainment. The decline of the music hall began in the early 20th century, influenced by the rise of cinema and changes in popular entertainment tastes. The decline accelerated after World War I, and many music halls were either converted into cinemas or demolished.

While the traditional music hall format largely disappeared, its influence can still be seen in modern forms of entertainment, and some elements of the music hall tradition have endured in contemporary variety shows and live performances.

The Gaiety Theatre

The Gaiety Theatre, located on the Strand in London, was a prominent Victorian-era theatre known for its contributions to musical theatre and light entertainment.

Inside the Gaiety when it opened in 1869

Opening and Early Years.
The Gaiety Theatre opened on December 21, 1868, on the site of the former Lyceum Theatre. The early years of the Gaiety were marked by a mix of drama and light entertainment, but its focus shifted more towards musical productions as time went on.

Management by John Hollingshead.
The Gaiety gained fame under the management of John Hollingshead, who took over in 1868. Under his direction, the theatre became synonymous with musical burlesque and operettas. Hollingshead aimed to provide light and humorous entertainment, catering to a wide audience.

Musical Burlesque and Gilbert and Sullivan Collaborations.
The Gaiety Theatre became famous for its musical burlesques, which were satirical and often featured humorous parodies of popular operas and plays. In the 1880s, the theatre hosted a series of successful productions by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, including “Patience” and “The Mikado.”

The Gaiety Girls.
The Gaiety became particularly associated with the “Gaiety Girls,” a term coined to refer to the chorus girls who appeared in the theatre’s productions. These young women were known for their beauty and vivacity, and their presence added to the overall appeal of the Gaiety’s shows.

Architectural Features.
The Gaiety Theatre underwent several renovations and changes over the years. Architect C.J. Phipps designed the original building, and subsequent modifications were made by other architects. The theatre had a distinctive horseshoe-shaped auditorium and a lavish interior.

Later Years and Closure.
The Gaiety continued to be a popular venue for musical productions into the early 20th century. However, like many other traditional theatres, it faced challenges from changing audience tastes and competition from newer forms of entertainment. The Gaiety closed in 1939 and was eventually demolished in 1956.

Legacy.
The Gaiety Theatre left a lasting legacy on the London theatrical scene, particularly in the realm of musical theatre. It played a crucial role in popularizing musical burlesque and operettas, influencing the development of the genre. The Gaiety’s focus on light entertainment and the “Gaiety Girls” also left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of Victorian and Edwardian London.

You can find more about the Gaiety at Arthur Lloyd .co.uk.

Merry Christmas from the Clearwater Family

For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, here’s wishing you a happy holiday, a sensational solstice, or simply, a pleasant break. To finish my posting for 2023 (as I will now be away until January 8th), I’ve put together a few notes on the kind of Christmas some of the Clearwater characters would have enjoyed. Many of the traditions we still use in Britain today began in the Victorian era, so there’s a little information about them too.

If you’ve read three Clearwater books, ‘Fallen Splendour’, ‘The Larkspur Legacy’, and/or ‘1892’, you will have already read a little about how Earl Clearwater celebrates Christmas at Larkspur Hall. Because Clearwater is a benevolent and philanthropic fellow, he invites everyone from his estate, from his top man, Tom Payne the estate steward, to the children of his tenant farmers, and he gives each of them a special gift. These are usually bought on his behalf by his housekeeper, as Archer is actually pretty bad at buying gifts for people. Larkspur has seen three housekeepers during the time we’ve spent there in the novels; Mrs Baker, Mrs Kevern, and now, as Sally Kevern went to housekeep for her best friend, Lucy, Jasper Blackwood, making Jasper the country’s youngest, male, piano-playing-genius housekeeper. I like to keep things eccentric at Larkspur.

Christmas at Larkspur? (Pst! It’s actually Chatsworth House.)

However, not everyone would have enjoyed the huge tree, the feast, gifts and warmth offered by Larkspur Hall. Let’s not forget the poor and homeless of London and other cities, who had very little, if anything, to celebrate. We know that Archer and Silas’ mission in Greychurch would have taken care of its boys, and Archer’s other charities would have looked after their charges, but for the general poor public, times were hard. Not only because of the weather and lack of money and food, but because they would have seen and heard about the lavish celebrations organised by the better off, and yet, there would have been nothing they could have done about it. According to Dickens in ‘A Christmas Carol’, the poor got on with it, suffered, were grateful for what they had, and made the best of a bad job. That’s something of a sugary coating if you ask me, but a lot of how we now feel about Christmas and the generosity some show to the poor at this time was inspired by Dickens and his novel.

Back to the details. Here’s what I cobbled together from various places on the net. A short breakdown of the traditions of a Victorian Christmas.

Christmas in Victorian London was a time of both traditions and transformations. The Victorian era, which lasted from the early 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, saw significant changes in society, industry, and culture. During this period, many of the Christmas customs we know today were popularized and became integral to the holiday season.

Christmas Decorations

The Christmas tree was introduced to England by Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert, and became a popular Victorian Christmas tradition. Families adorned their trees with candles, ornaments, and small gifts.

Holly, ivy, and mistletoe were commonly used for decorations. These evergreen plants symbolized renewal and were believed to ward off evil spirits. (Inspired by pre-Christian solstice celebrations.)

Christmas Feasting

Christmas feasts were elaborate affairs with a variety of dishes. Roast turkey or goose was a popular choice, accompanied by side dishes like plum pudding, mince pies, and Christmas cake.

The Christmas pudding, a dense and rich dessert, became a staple of Victorian Christmas celebrations.

Keel Hall, UK, but not unlike Larkspur?

Gift-Giving

The Victorians embraced the tradition of gift-giving during Christmas. Handmade gifts and small trinkets were exchanged among family and friends.

Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ published in 1843, contributed to the popularization of Christmas as a time for generosity and goodwill, emphasizing the importance of charity and compassion.

Christmas Carolling

Carolling gained popularity during the Victorian era. Groups of singers would visit homes and entertain with Christmas carols. (Again, based on a much earlier tradition of mummers and wassailing, I believe.)

Familiar carols such as ‘Silent Night’ and ‘O Holy Night’ were sung, and new carols were composed during this time.

[By the way, my favourite carol/hymn of the season is ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ with words by Christina Rossetti (1872). The poem became a hymn when published in the English Hymnal in 1906, with a tune by Gustave Holst, and that’s my favourite of the various tunes composed to accompany the words.]

The Royal Family at Christmas

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Christmas Eve was often a time for family gatherings and festive meals, as happens at Larkspur Hall. The opening of presents and the exchange of gifts also occurred on Christmas Eve in some households.

Christmas Day was marked by attending church services in the morning, followed by a festive meal and various forms of entertainment.

Street Celebrations

Public celebrations in the streets were common, with markets selling seasonal goods and treats. Streets and shops were decorated with festive lights and greenery. They still are.

Victorian Christmas Cards

The tradition of sending Christmas cards became popular during the Victorian era. The first commercial Christmas card was produced in 1843, the same year Dickens published “A Christmas Carol.”

There’s a reference to Christmas Cards and the post in one of the early Clearwater books, but I can’t remember which one. James Wright, when a messenger, complained about the amount of post now being sent… It might have been another character, but at least it got a mention.

Despite the emphasis on festive celebrations, not everyone in Victorian London experienced a joyous Christmas. The disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished was stark, and charitable efforts during the Christmas season aimed to address the needs of the less fortunate. The Victorian influence on Christmas traditions has left a lasting legacy, shaping many aspects of how we celebrate the holiday today.

However you celebrate, or even if you don’t, I wish you a peaceful Christmas and New Year period during which, if you’ve nothing else to do, you can explore the Clearwater back catalogue and any of my other novels you’ve not yet read. [Click for the full list]

A heartfelt thank you to all my readers, particularly you, if you have left a review or joined in on my Facebook pages, shared links and done your bit, or even if you’re a silent reader… Everyone! Happy Christmas and I will see you next year. Remember, as I always say, if you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

All the best!

Jackson Marsh – James Collins
Professor Fleet – Husband Neil
Mrs Norwood – Jenine the PA
And the whole team.

Let’s all go Down the Strand

Let’s all go Down the Strand

“Let’s All Go Down the Strand” is a popular British music hall song of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, written by Harry Castling and C. W. Murphy. It was first performed by Castling and was published in 1909. It was inspired by the Strand, a street in Westminster, Central London, that in the late 19th century became a centre for theatres, hotels and music halls. [Wikipedia]

It’s also the song that has the famous interjection, ‘Have a banana!’ Or, as I say here in Greece, ‘Have a moussaka.’ The interjection, however, was a later addition and apparently came from the audience, not the writer’s. The point of bringing this up is to introduce you to the setting for book three of my new Delamere Files series of Victorian, MM romantic mysteries. What happened to books one and two, you may ask?

Delamere Series

Book one, ‘Finding a Way’ is already out on Amazon, and is doing very well. Book two, ‘A Fall from Grace’ should be available before the end of October. While that is being proofed, and while I wait for the illustration and cover, I have begun research and plotting for book three, currently titled, ‘Silence and Limelight.’

Silence and Limelight

Silence and Limelight was the title of a musical I wrote for an amateur theatre company donkey’s years ago, but this story is completely different. I always liked the title for its paradox (I think that’s what it is), and it fitted well with the story I have in mind for Delamere three. The story takes as its background the London Music Hall, a form of entertainment which rose during the 19th century and lasted into the 20th century when it became more commonly known as Variety (Vaudeville in America). From there, it can be said, we saw the rise of the stage musical which has now, tragically, become a vaguely creative retelling of Disney stories or biographies of musicians with the core stitched together using unoriginal songs. Don’t get me started on that! Instead, let me start with a few words by a chap called F. Anstey, written in 1891, the year before ‘Silence and Limelight’ is set. The piece I am quoting from is titled ‘London Musci Halls’ and it is his experience of viewing such theatrical establishments, not all of which he approved or enjoyed.

London Music Halls

Ansty starts with this:

LONDON music halls might be roughly grouped into four classes—first, the aristocratic variety theatre of the West End, chiefly found in the immediate neighbourhood of Leicester Square; then the smaller and less aristocratic West End halls; next, the large bourgeois music halls of the less fashionable parts and in the suburbs; last, the minor music halls of the poor and squalid districts. The audiences, as might be expected, correspond to the social scale of the particular place of entertainment, but the differences in the performances provided by the four classes of music halls are far less strongly marked.

You have to understand the Victorian zeitgeist and not be offended by words such as ‘poor and squalid.’ If you are offended by such historical descriptions, you shouldn’t be reading about history. Only, you should, because without all the triumphs and horrors of history, we would not learn how to emulate or prevent them in our future. But don’t get me started on attempts to erase history and make everything ‘woke’ either!

Ansty then tells us about a first-class music hall venue and it sounds terribly smart and very you, and he approves. He even approves of the clog dancer and the ‘serpent man’ (a contortionist) perhaps because squeezed between the two was a young lady reciting Tennyson and other poets.

However, then he comes to the next tier of music hall venues, the smaller and less aristocratic West End halls of which he says:

It is unnecessary to describe the second class of music halls, in which neither audience nor entertainment presents any characteristic features.

Right, so that’s that then! What’s interesting to note is that he is as interested in the audience as he is in the entertainment.

The third tier of London’s music halls, he introduces thus:

Both externally and internally the bourgeois and suburban music hall differs considerably from its more fashionable rival. For one thing, it is generally dingier and gaudier of appearance; the entrance is covered with huge posters and adorned with tea-garden plaster statues bearing coloured lamps; the walls are lined with tarnished looking-glass, gilded trellis-work, or virgin cork. Sometimes there is a skittle-alley or a shooting-gallery in the “Grand Lounge.”

The Roman Road music hall, preserved.

Then we come to the world of Jack Merrit’s father, that well-known (for all the wrong reasons) and not much lauded music hall entertainer, Samson Merrit, who famously died on stage in March 1891, and, according to the press, died while singing with Marie Lloyd.

As my first draft of my first paragraph of Silence and Limelight reads:

When, on the night of the thirteenth of March 1891, Samson Merrit dropped dead on stage, the only person in the Griffin Music Hall who knew it wasn’t part of his act was Mr Merrit himself.

As another aside, H. Chance Newton, writing in 1902, says of the Griffin, by then under a new name and management:

Round the corner in Shoreditch is the London Music-Hall, wherein the stranger who pays his first visit will undoubtedly fancy for the nonce that he has lost his way and has by accident strayed into one of the best West- End halls.

(In those days, for the nonce meant for the one purpose, and only meant what we now know it to mean in slang.)

Meanwhile, back to Mr Ansty. Having described various acts and venues of his first three tiers of the music hall, he comes to the lowest of the low (in his opinion), and the kind of music hall my character Samson Merrit appeared at. Mr Ansty says:

Music halls of the fourth and lowest class are perhaps the most characteristic, and certainly not the least entertaining, although a visit to one of them makes a stronger demand upon one’s powers of physical endurance.

He follows this with an often-amusing description of what he saw and heard while his nose was upturned, but also praises the place for its honesty and lack of pretention. Of the audience, he says:

They rock with laughter, the whole pit swaying like a field of wheat in a breeze. Those who assert that the London poor are a joyless class, incapable of merriment, should see this crowd when genuinely amused, and consider whether there is not some exaggeration in descriptions of their hopeless gloom.

Marie lloyd

This is all fodder for my research canon, and I am very much enjoying reading such articles. I am also reading a biography of Marie Lloyd, one of the most famous stars of the time, and awaiting an out-of-date copy of a book about the Gaiety Theatre in Aldwych, London, as more background reading.

Meanwhile, I have made a basic plot outline of ‘Silence and Limelight’, mapping not only the mystery but also the relationship between Jack Merrit and his attraction to men, Larkin Chase in particular. If you have read ‘Finding a Way’, you will be pleased to know that what was left hanging at the end is cut down and dissected in ‘A Fall from Grace.’

That’s all I am saying about book two, except: Its background world is a British public school, and I will write more about it on my blog on Wednesday as I continue to work on book three.

Dictionary of Victorian London

The above quotes are taken from Dictionary of Victorian London, a massively researched collection of all things Victorian in print, created by Lee Jackson, and launched in 2001. It is one of my main resources for writing of the time.

Lee Jackson has published many books about Victorian London, and you can find them on his Amazon Page.

The online resource quoted here can be found in Dictionary of Victorian London.

Imagination is more important than Knowledge: Discuss.

“Imagination is more important than Knowledge.”

So said Albert Einstein, thus inspiring today’s blog, a continuation from last week’s blog, which was about researching the taxi driver’s ‘knowledge.’

In that case, ‘knowledge’ was the thing London cabbies need before they can start transporting passengers around the metropolis. In Einstein’s case,

‘knowledge’ meant learning, what facts we have accumulated and, literally, what we know.

So, what he’s saying is pretty clear:

it’s more important to imagine than it is to know.

Thinking that, reminded me of the old adage, ‘Write about what you know.’ How many times have I heard that? I remember being told it at school when we had to write essays and short stories for English classes. However, I also remember when I was first inspired to write creatively, and here’s a little story that, unless I lose my train of thought, will point up the idea of creativity and imagination being more important than knowledge.

Soon to be Twelve, Never Been to Egypt

Picture it…

I am sitting in the library of an independent school in Folkestone, Kent. The wall opposite is filled with books, my best friend is sharing the table with me, and there’s a man with a beard facing us and the rest of the small class of uniformed pupils. It’s March 1975, and I am a few days away from being twelve years old. A few days ago, the television news carried the appalling story of a tube strain disaster at Moorgate station in London, where 43 people died because the train failed to stop and drove into a wall at speed. Not exactly the subject for a discussion during an English lesson with Mr Whitney, housemaster, historian and all-round inspirer of pupils. After a discussion about the train crash, our homework was to write a short story inspired by the event, which you might think was a little unusual or bad taste, but that’s the British public school system for you.

So, off I went after school, walking up the road to the bus stop with John (the best friend), discussing not English homework, but Hammer Horror films, because he collected the magazines, and we both liked the films, and having said goodbye, I continued to the bus stop and went home to write my short story.

Flashback: 1972, I am nine years old and in a long queue, eventually entering a huge building, walking through echoing halls and into dark chambers to wonder at the gold funeral mask of a pharaoh, Tutankhamun, and other treasures. Flash forward a couple of years, and I am watching one of the Universal ‘Mummy’ films, Boris Karloff or Lon Chaney Jr., it doesn’t matter which, I am fascinated by pyramids, Egyptian tombs and things buried underground.

Flash back to the story, and I am sitting down to write my homework based on the tube disaster. Of course, I didn’t know what it was like to be involved, I’m not even sure I’d been on a tube train by then, so all I had to go on were the images I’d seen on TV and my imagination. Oh, and my interest in Egyptology, such as it was at 11 years old.

My story, presented at the next English lesson, concerned a team of archaeologists investigating a pyramid, when that pyramid collapsed. All I remember of it were limbs sticking out from beneath rocks, dust, darkness, screams and other horror elements, and the ending; a man in a hospital bed where instead of flowers in the vase, there were the same dead arms and legs. I also remember the praise I received after its presentation in class. Mr Whitney singled it out because it had a beginning, a middle and an end, and told the whole class he’d chosen it for singular praise because I ‘Didn’t once mention a blessed train, like the rest of you. Imagination! It is far more useful than knowledge.’ Or something very similar. He then, rather annoyingly for an 11-year-old, told me it needed improvement, and I was to write it out again in my best handwriting, but not to copy it. What he did was tell me to write a second draft, thus teaching me the pain and value of editing.

The point of that story was simply to highlight the title of this piece, that you don’t always need knowledge to write creatively, and to be truly creative, imagination is more important than knowledge.

Now hang on a minute We can take the opposite view with no hassle whatsoever and be perfectly pedantic by saying: You need to know how to write. Ah ha! See, that’s knowledge. Yes, and quite right. Except, as far as we know, Homer never wrote a word, he spoke his stories, as that was the only way to pass them down back then. He didn’t need to know how to write, he needed to know how to tell a story, but storytelling is in all of us, whether it comes out in the written word or spoken, in art, journalism, comic books or gossip; we all have the ability to tell a story.

Yes, but… I know what you’re going to say. How can you write about something you know nothing about? How can you write a story set somewhere you have never been, or about something you have never experienced, or have no knowledge of?

Yeah, yeah, blah-di-blah… Tell me, dear sceptic, how many times did Shakespeare visit Italy to research his Merchant of Venice or any of the other 13 plays he set in the country? Did Bernard Cornwell OBE fight against Napoleon, or live among the Anglo Saxons of the Dark Ages? I think not. Yes, writers research, and some who write historical novels are learned historians, but they’ve still never been back in time, and let’s not mention Azimov or Arthur C Clarke, and others who write science fiction, fantasy or steampunk. Come to that, Bram Stoker never went to Transylvania or, as far as anyone knows, got bitten by a vampire or had his head chopped off.

Write about what you know, and if you don’t know about it, research. That would be a better maxim, in my book.

Ideas are the Seed of all Achievement

I found that delicious quote, from journalist, Anastasia Haralabidou, in an article titled ‘Great Ideas: Is imagination more important than knowledge?’ (2015, you can find it here.)  In her article, she points out how imagination has inspired knowledge. Example: an apple falling from a tree and narrowly missing Isaac Newton… Why did it do that? How come it fell and didn’t float away? And there we have gravity.

It’s a case of saying ‘What if?’ and then following the what if to a conclusion, and to do that, you need to use imagination, not knowledge. If you don’t have the knowledge, you can gain it, if you don’t have the imagination, well, frankly, you’re scuppered. As Haralabidou also says in her article,

“Imagination is the highest freedom of all and the one that no one can deprive us of.”

How good is that? We all have an imagination, it is as inherent as storytelling, and you don’t need knowledge to release it, you only need to know that you can, and we all can. Some with more success than others, I grant you, but it is within us all to tell stories, and if those stories are set in a time or place about which we know nothing, then, like a soon to be 12-year-old transposing what he’d seen on the news to the pyramids of Giza, we research what we must, and imagine the rest.

This all reminds me of another saying I heard once many years ago which has always stuck with me. Prevention is better than knowing who did it. That, I fancy, might be the title of a future blog.

Learning the Knowledge for a New Series

If you read my Wednesday work-in-progress blog, you will know I have embarked on a new series, currently titled ‘New Series’ in one folder, and ‘Victorian Series’ in another. So far, I have written four chapters in draft one, a rough outline, some character notes, and some research notes.

Part of my research has been around cab drivers because one of the two main characters is a young cabman, and that led me to a couple of books, a few websites, and a coincidence.

The Knowledge

When London cabbies train for the job, they spend on average two years learning ‘the knowledge.’ That’s the layout of all 25,000 or more London streets in a six-mile radius from central London, roughly.

If you’ve ever taken a black cab, as we call them nowadays (though they are not always black), you’ll feel assured that once you step in and say, ‘471 Kingsland Road,’ the driver will say, ‘Righty-o, Guv,’ and off you go. You can give as obscure an address as you fancy and, the chances are, your driver will know where it is because he’s got ‘the knowledge.’

When this term came into use, I am not sure, but then, I’ve not completed my research yet.

My ordered book has arrived, ‘The History of the London Horse Cab’, and I’ve read the introduction, but there’s a long way to go yet, so my knowledge of cab work and ‘the knowledge’ currently equates to knowing only about five streets out of the 25,000 or more.

I’ve also been looking at various collections of writings from Victorian times that I’ve found on websites, including my favourite, The Dictionary of Victorian London, compiled by Lee Jackson.

A Coincidence

While looking around for various resources, I came across a Facebook page dedicated to a book, ‘Carter the Cabman.’ After a little investigation, I discovered that this book was available on Kindle, so I downloaded a copy and set to reading, out of interest.

It turns out to be a novel, presenting in a nicely clever way, a collection of papers discovered in an antique shop in 1988, and those papers were written by a cabman called Carter in 1888, at the time of Jack the Ripper. That’s as far as I have got with my reading as I only bought it yesterday, but already, I feel a weird sense of coincidence. My Clearwater Mysteries series begins in 1888 at the time of the Ripper (though it’s not Jack), and my new series is not only about a cab driver, but is also set in 1888, though the Ripper murders are not part of the plot this time. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of ‘Carter’ and perhaps asking the author if he’d like to appear here in a guest post. (Though I’m not sure how to tell him that the word ‘weekend’ didn’t come into usage until after 1912, so his cabman author of 1888 would not have used it… but that’s me being pedantic.)

More About ‘New Victorian Series’

My notes are vague in places, and detailed in others. I have in mind a set of investigations that my two main characters will undertake, but unlike the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries, these will involve a different investigative style. Clearwater and Larkspur use a lot of unlikely but not impossible scenarios, and inventions of the time or just before the time, such as vanishing and reappearing ink, telegraph printers, and glow-in-the-dark paint. The new series will, if all goes according to plan, focus on real issues of the time and how my two MCs put things right. A little like ‘Guardians of the Poor’, where our heroes uncover corruption at the Hackney workhouse. I have in my list of ideas notes such as:

  • Slum landlords Vs paupers,
  • The Thames Murders (cold case),
  • Mediums,
  • Quacks,
  • Lunatic asylum, and
  • ‘gay’ cases.

The latter one is also a hark back to Larkspur, where the initial idea was to base characters and stories on actual events, which I did all the way through: Dalston Blaze and the workhouse scandal, for example, or Edward Hyde’s incident on the train and the court case with that nasty Tory MP. But don’t think this new series is going to be all special investigation and doing the right thing, and don’t think it will be a repeat of issues and events from the other two series.

So far, I know that it is going to involve the following:

  • Clues
  • villains
  • adventure
  • A slow-burn romance over a couple of books
  • A character with an undefined ‘problem’ who will turn out to be a genius (at something)
  • Brotherly love
  • Bromance and MM romance (of course)
  • Falling in love, falling out of love, blah-di-blah
  • Humour
  • Real places and events

That’s where I am with ‘New Victorian Series’ right now, researching and learning more knowledge about life in Victorian Britain, especially London, around the end of the 19th century. It all starts with a journalist discovering a handsome young cabman in tears late at night on August 17th 1888. Why is he crying? That’s what you will one day find out.