Tag Archives: Devil’s Return

Stalking Dead People (Again!)

John Leech’s first cartoon of Mr Briggs, a middle-class gentleman residing in the suburbs with his family. Mr Briggs’s adventures are partly modelled on Leech’s own experiences with middle-class life in the suburbs

Today I did some research on the editor (Mark Lemon) and one of the artists (John Leech) of PUNCH, the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful British magazine (of which 70 kilos reside on the shelf in Sandy’s sitting room). In particular I tried to figure out how long the Lemons and the Leech(e?)s lived at No. 10 and 12 Brook Green after finding a reference that by July 1849 the Lemons lived in Notting Hill.

So I started to dig.

The letters of Charles Dickens proved to be particular helpful for, as it turns out, Dickens was a very good of Lemon’s until the former broke up with his (and PUNCH’s) publisher, Bradbury & Evans. Unfortunately, the transcribed letters only seldom give the address of the recipient (grrrr!), and for 1848 (the year I was particularly interested in) only one letter to Mark Lemon includes an address – 11 Bouverie Street, home not to Mr Lemon, but to Mr Punch: this is the address of the PUNCH office. *sigh*

But as if to make up for his shocking lack of foresight, Dickens referred to a most interesting tidbit in one of his letters from 1847. On 3 August 1847, he wrote to a friend: “What a tremendous chance that Leech’s little girl was not born on the Railway!” A footnote was helpful to supply further background information: Mrs Leech, heavily pregnant, had gone into labour during an outing with Dickenses and a group of other people. In another letter to another friend, Dickens described how she was brought to the Victoria Hotel in Euston in a Bath Chair and had her baby girl in a hotel room. “She is a capital little woman!” Dickens concludes (11 Aug. 1847).

Ha! You do know how much I love such anecdotes, don’t you? 🙂

The Joys of Research

One of the great joys of writing historicals, I find, is doing research. I’m curious about how people lived in the past and I think it endlessly fascinating to stumble across new tidbits about their everyday life. Thus, for the story I’m currently writing, DEVIL’S RETURN (to be released in April *fingers crossed*) I explored old maps of London. The National Library of Scotland has come up with the most wonderful feature: not only did they digitalise a lot of their maps, but their website also has a section called “georeferenced maps”, where the images of the old maps are laid over a modern map. And you wouldn’t believe the details that can be found in some of these old maps! For example, they have a map of London from the 1890s, which shows drinking fountains, troughs, and urinals (!!!) scattered throughout London. Magical!

One of the characters in DEVIL’S RETURN lives in Brook Green, in Hammersmith, and as some of the PUNCH men lived there in the 1840s, I tried to find out as much as possible about the area. Thanks to that very detailed map from the 1890s I was even able to locate John Leech’s house (I guess that could be called stalking a dead person….). In a letter to a friend, he described it as being opposite some almshouses “at the corner of Cornwall Road”. That bit stumped me for a while until I found out that Cornwall Road had been renamed a few years later and had become Rowan Road by the time the map from the 1890s was created.

 Well, but how to get one’s characters from Town to Hammersmith? Because of my studies involving the magazine PUNCH, I already knew that there had been an omnibus service in London since 1829. (The following picture is a cartoon from PUNCH, drawn by my favourite illustrator of the time, Richard Doyle.)

And thanks to Google Books, I had soon found a guidebook with omnibus timetables: MOGG’S OMNIBUS GUIDE from 1844. It has to say the following about the bus to Hammersmith:

Hammersmith, 4. European Coffee House, opposite the Mansion House, daily, Sund. included, every 10 min. from 9 morn till 1/2 p. 11 night, Black Horse Coventry Street, a 1/4 of an hour later, and from the White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, 1/2 an hour later. Leaves Hammersmith daily Sunday included every 10 min. from 8 morn. till 10 night.

Right-ho. But how long would it take to ride the bus from the White Horse Cellar to Hammersmith? Again, Google Books came to my rescue: in another guidebook (this time from 1871), I found a timetable that gave listed the times of departure in a similar manner as modern bus or train timetables:

Neat, isn’t it? 🙂