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? 🙂