Friday, 23 May 2014


I was very pleased to be invited to join the Writers' Blog Tour recently by my Twitter friend Gillian Mawson at
I hope you’ll enjoy your visit, and will go on to sample the blogs of the other talented writers, highlighted below. We are part of a growing international community of writers, working to introduce our blogs to a wider audience. Christine Findlay, Chair of Bookmark Blair, (Blairgowrie Rattray and The Glens Book Festival) in Perthshire, Scotland, invited us to take part (see

Gillian Mawson invited the writers Anne Allen (, Rita Roberts ( and myself to follow her on the tour.

Today, it's my turn to be host on the Writers' Blog Tour and, as with the previous hosts, I'm going to share some insights about my writing.

What am I working on?

I'm currently working on publicity for my latest book, A Visitor's Guide to Victorian England (Pen & Sword, 2014). I am also at the early research stages for my next book which has a working title of Servants' Stories: Life Below Stairs In Their Own Words. For this, I'm returning to the world of domestic service, having written Tracing Your Servant Ancestors a couple of years ago. It's fascinating but I've had to learn some new interviewing skills because all my other books have been based in the Victorian period, or earlier, and all the sources took the form of documents, rather than living people! 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a difficult question because there are so many brilliant writers who write about the Victorian period. All I can say is that Victorian social history is a real passion of mine, and has been since I started tracing my family tree at the age of 16. I also try very hard not to restrict my work to London because I think it's important to tell the history of other regional centres as part of the story of the UK's past.

'A London May Day' from The Graphic, 1876
Why do I write what I do?

I've partly answered this above but I love to search out the seemingly insignificant details which bring history to life for readers. I'm interested in how people lived and worked on a daily basis - basically, I'm very nosy!

How does my writing process work?

Thorough research of primary sources is always the first stage of the process when I'm working on a new book. I find out which archives have the most promising material and try to visit as many as I can. At the same time, I'll be sorting out the structure of the book and the kind of content I want to include. Then I supplement the primary sources with information from secondary sources. When all the research has been done, I start to write and will do several drafts before the final edit. 

Scarborough Sands from Fish Pier, circa 1900
Finally, I'd like to introduce you to two wonderfully talented writers whose work you may enjoy.

Sue Wilkes

Sue, a Lancashire lass who lives in Cheshire, has written extensively on social, literary and industrial history. A creative writing tutor specialising in non-fiction, Sue has written many articles for history and family history magazines such as BBC History and Who Do You Think You Are? Her seventh book, A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England, will be published by Pen & Sword in October 2014. Sue blogs at: and

Angela Buckley

Angela Buckley is the author of The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada (Pen and Sword, 2014). She writes regularly for family history publications on a range of subjects including crime, poverty and the plight of the working classes in Victorian England. Born in Manchester, Angela enjoys exploring the city’s colourful past and the experiences of her own ancestors in the slums. Her blog is dedicated to Victorian crime:


Thursday, 8 May 2014


Today, I'm delighted to be hosting a guest post from Denise Bates, author of Breach of Promise to Marry: A History of How Jilted Brides Settled Scores. Her fascinating book sheds light on this little known law and explores the different ways in which it was used to claim for compensation after a seduction led to pregnancy; to exact revenge and financially ruin an ex-suitor; to illegally extort money in order to set up home with another lover; or simply to seek recompense for ‘hurt feelings’. Here, she offers sage advice for gentleman visitors to Victorian England:

Although the Victorians considered that men were the stronger sex, one very unusual law put them at a disadvantage. Asking a woman to become his wife and then changing his mind could have serious repercussions for a gentleman's bank balance. Some women enforced their right to compensation for a man's selfish behaviour by suing him for breach of promise to marry. Usually they obtained £100 damages (current value approx £10,000), but a few came away from court with damages of £1,000 or more to soothe their hurt feelings if a man's conduct was considered particularly bad.
Nine out of ten women who claimed for breach of promise received some money from their former suitor. This high success rate encouraged a few fraudulent claims from artful hussies whose family and friends concocted an unlikely story about a man proposing; or plied him with drink until he did so. Assuming that you have no wish to change your bachelor status or part with any of your hard-earned cash to buy your way out of an unfortunate romantic entanglement, a few simple rules will protect you:

Do not spend too much time with a single woman. Odd as it seems, juries occasionally inferred an engagement from the couple's behaviour, even if neither party had spoken the word ‘marriage’.

If invited to the family home, do not accept any refreshment from a woman or her relatives unless you know what is in it. A few parents may slip something which causes temporary amnesia into food and drink given to a male visitor.

If you find yourself alone with a woman, immediately check inside the cupboards and outside the room. Occasionally, a friend or sister who was wedged in an unlikely hiding place or standing with an ear against the door overheard a disputed proposal.

Should you discover that a woman's sister has already won damages for breach of promise, take your leave immediately as lightning can strike twice. Sheffield sisters Emily and Eliza Laycock achieved a notable feat in 1850 when both were awarded several hundred pounds in damages for breach of promise at different courts in consecutive weeks.

If, despite your best endeavours, you find that a woman is threatening to sue you for breach of promise, you have two choices. One is to offer to settle immediately, out-of-court and in cash, as soon as she signs a piece of paper freeing you from all other claims. This is the gentlemanly way to behave as it is discreet, avoids legal costs and will allow you to negotiate a lower figure than the £100 she will be demanding. The other option is to defend the claim. If you don't mind your name being bandied about in the newspapers and are absolutely sure that you can prove that you never proposed, go ahead and take your chance with the jury. It is a high stakes gamble, but as one woman in every ten lost her claim, lady luck might just be on your side. 

Denise Bates is the author of Breach of Promise to Marry, A History of how Jilted Brides Settled Scores (Pen & Sword Books, £12.99). She has investigated a range of cases to discover new information about what a claim for breach of promise meant to the Victorians.

Thanks, Denise! So if you're a gentleman visitor to Victorian England, add breach of promise to your list of pitfalls to avoid...

Thursday, 1 May 2014


When I agreed to host this month's History Carnival, I was looking forward to seeing the wealth of talent in blogging across all historical eras - and I was not disappointed. My research and writing is usually restricted to the Victorians with occasional forays into the Edwardian and WW1 periods. Reading the outstanding blogs from all kinds of history and other eras was both liberating and exciting, akin to visiting a new country for the first time. I decided not to follow a particular theme but just chose subjects which I found interesting. I hope you enjoy reading my selections as much as I did.

From the British Library's Untold Lives blog came the strange tale of the 'Deliberately Dangerous Beard' which sparked angry scenes at a church in 1843. As it was posted on 1 April, I thought it might be an April fool but no, it's true!  

Two Nerdy History Girls highlighted some 'Interesting Births, Marriages & Deaths in 1817' including runaway brides and a woman giving birth to her twentieth child.

On the Imperial & Global Forum, Paul Doolan explains how the 'Dutch Imperial Past Returns to Haunt the Netherlands' and has forced Dutch courts to acknowledge and apologise for the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Indonesia during decolonisation between 1945 and 1949.

Over at Khronikos, Greg Rogers discusses the role of 'Iroquois Informers: Spies, Knowledge and Empire in the Northeast Borderlands' in crossing imperial boundaries and returning with intelligence for the British and French.

Also at Khronikos, in 'Kernels of Conflict: Farmers, Canners, and Environmental Knowledge in Maine's Canned Sweet Corn Industry', Cody P Miller examines the uneasy friction between farmers and canners.

At the Art and Architecture, Mainly blog, Helen Webberley offers her view of the History Channel's Churchill & The Fascist Plot in her post on 'Archibald Ramsay, the Right Club and British Fascism'.  

Jonathan Willis at The Many-headed Monster blog tells the tale of Goodwife Dannutt who was driven to distraction by noise in his post on 'Elizabethan 'madmen' Part II: Nightmare Neighbours and Tudor ASBOs'.

For St George's Day, the British Library's Medieval Manuscripts blog looked at the 'Anatomy of a Dragon' and how the creature was portrayed in medieval illustrations; this post has some beautiful accompanying images taken from the manuscript collection.

In 'This is not a test', Ian Curry at Vaguely Interesting discusses the shocking nuclear test which took place near Totskoye in the southern Urals in 1954 and the human consequences for 45,000 of the Soviet Union's own troops.

On the Vintage Everyday blog, you can read about the exuberance of 'Two Young Girls Bicycling Across America in 1944', inspired by Mark Twain; scroll down the post to find the link to the girls' full diary entries.

Over at The Pirate Omnibus in 'Expressing Your Love', Simon Abernethy explains how Victorian railways aided elopements and how another new invention, the electric telegraph, helped to thwart them.

In 'The Anzac Day Silence, Religion and Garland' at Stumbling Through the Past, Yvonne Perkins looks at how the Christian rituals associated with Anzac Day came about, 98 years on from the first commemoration. 

On the Cotsen Children's Library blog, Jeff Barton writes about the illustrations of 'School Days in Children's Books' and how they add to our understanding of classrooms and learning environments in the past.

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice looked at 'Death's Doll: The World's Most Beautiful Mummy', the unsettling story of a two year old girl who died from pneumonia in 1920 and was embalmed and placed inside the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Italy.

At Frog in a Well, Alan Baumler highlights the extraordinary Chinese film footage that can be viewed online in his post 'The Internet is Awesome - Chinese History in Film Version'.

Looking ahead to May, at the Furnace Park blog, Adam Smith offers sage 'Advice from an Eighteenth Century 'Gardener's Calendar'. Then, as now, at this time of year, gardeners were advised to pay careful attention to cucumber plants.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who nominated a blog entry and to those who wrote them. Next month's History Carnival 134 on 1 June will be hosted by Ian Curry at Vaguely Interesting. Don't forget to nominate your favourite blog entries from May - see you there!