From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “19th Century facts”

Writer Meets Research

IMG_7909 Ribblehead Viaduct croppedFrom the instant the wheels of the London train began to cross the twenty-four arches of the Ribblehead viaduct, it seemed everything Mary had ever known fell behind and no one seemed even to care. Every thud served a stab to her heart like each span were crumbling, blocking her way back. When they reached the far side of the bridge, it struck her that every moment passing instantly becomes a memory. Worse, she became only a memory to it too and all trace of the reality either side knew—gone.

It seems a lifetime ago since I first wrote those words into my adult historical novel. They spoke of a place I’d never seen, but one I had a great affinity for through both my characters’ journey south from Glasgow to London early in 1914 and following in the footsteps of, or close to, my grandmother and great-grandparents when they journeyed to Australia, just prior to World War One, from their tiny pit village in Scotland to the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine in Australia.

That journey is the impetus for my novel. Though the plot and characters are entirely fictitious, it is a small nod to my forebears and my heritage. A story born of whispers when I first visited the reconstructed State Coal Mine site in Wonthaggi back in 2008.

P1010591 Yorkshire DalesmanSo it was my utter thrill to return to Scotland recently and take the steam rail journey on the Yorkshire Dalesman from Skipton to Carlisle and cross the Ribblehead Viaduct and see for myself this amazing landscape and piece of history. The views, I suspect, are not so very different from the vista a century ago when my family travelled the same rails.

P1010611 Yorkshire DalesWe were lucky to experience a fabulous blue sky day and witness the etchings of clouds on the hillsides and valley floors. I wasn’t the only one catching flitters of coal grit and straining for a look (photo opp) out the window. Our fellow travellers appeared seized with a like excitement and thrill. For me it held a deeply personal resonance and I found my eyes prickling at the double whammy of life meeting art, and the timeliness. I’m sure my ancestors experienced an even greater excitement, perhaps fear, heading for a new land, rather than a delicious bistro lunch and glass of vino.

The viaduct was built between 1870 to 1874 by over one-hundred navvies (manual labourers) who set up camps and shanty towns on the land around the site, which is now a scheduled archaeological monument. Over one-hundred men died during in its construction through accidents and illness and lie alongside an equal number of their women and children in nearby cemeteries.

The viaduct is 400 metres long and sits 32 metres at its highest point. It is breathtaking to see and a credit to the workmanship and hardship endured by those who built it. And to those who dared travel its breadth and beyond.

P1010559 Chris Bell Yorkshire DalesmanOnce again it reminded me of the courage and exertions of our forebears and how very, very lucky I am to all these years later to have had the opportunity to experience the same journey and tiny part of the history for myself.

If you’d like a small taste of a similar journey crossing the viaduct, please check out the Youtube video below.

 

Killer Clothes – Literally

arsenic bottleDuring the 1800s the population of Victorian England were quite literally eating, wearing, sleeping and washing themselves to death with arsenic.

While researching rat poison, strictly for my novel, of course, I came across some startling facts. Arsenic was used as a common green colourant, creating the gorgeous Scheeles green, Emerald and Paris green dyes. Arsenic dyes went into everything from wallpaper, clothing, jellies, sweets, artificial flowers, soaps and candles, as well as children’s toys.

green dressLadies swooned in their bright crinoline gowns, never suspecting their dresses were poisoning them and the cause of their aches and pains. A person could become ill just sleeping in his bed surrounded by fashionable green wallpapering, breathing in the paper dust and vapours.

Green wallpaperWith the ready availability of the impossible to taste, smell, detect, common household grains or bottles of liquid arsenic, there were plenty of deliberate poisonings too. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning imitated common gastric complaints and ailments: stomach pains, cramping muscles and sweating, and it is thought that many murder victims went to their graves under the guise of food poisoning or intestinal diseases. Desperate murderers of the day often sought to claim the “life insurance” held by many householders  to afford them a decent burial when the time came. For some, that time came sooner than expected.

It was the late 1800s before synthetic dyes began to replace arsenic greens, and quite some years after their poisonous nature was first discovered. Makers of millions of yards of wallpaper and other manufacturers held out insisting that their products caused no harm, until science could irrefutably prove that arsenic was poisonous in such applications and not just through ingestion by mouth. By the 1900s forensic science could detect arsenic in the deceased and it passed out of popularity with poisoners too.

Now to the writing month that was October

Books Read:                          1 x YA novel (no time to read – see “houses moved”)

Words Written:                       12000

Words Edited:                         20000

Convict Slang Learned:

Knuckle – to pick pockets

Horney – a constable

Glim stick – a candlestick

Houses Moved                       1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was gobsmacked to see this guy moving house in Fuzhou, China back in 2006. It was incredible how much he had stacked on such a small cart. We were  lucky to have a large moving van and a couple of energetic professionals to assist us in relocating our worldly goods.

Source: Convict slang A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language (Author James Hardy Vaux 1812)

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