Category Archives: Historical Romance

A Workhouse Scandal – Pauper Abuse in Edmund Bartlemas’ Time

Historical Notes from Chapter One of The Horseman’s Desire

Emma Turpin, heroine of The Horseman’s Desire, was raised at the Norwood Industrial School (or The Norwood School of Industry) before taking up her post as Lady’s Maid to Miss Augusta Armstrong’s at the age of 13. Industrial Schools sprang up all around England in response to the burgeoning workhouses that accommodated countless poor families in what became known as The Hungry Forties (1840s). While some workhouses accommodated children with their mothers until the age of seven or eight, other institutions were unable or unwilling to do so, and the children were farmed out to Industrial Schools, often never to see their families again.


While the Norwood Industrial School seems to have been one of the better run institutions, regardless of what must have been a dehumanising experience, not all workhouses were the same. In researching this subject, I came across something so shocking that I found it difficult to believe at first. Further research confirmed that the incident had indeed happened and was reported in newspapers of the time, and if you’re currently eating your breakfast, I would suggest that you wait a while before continuing.


A newspaper illustration from The Penny Satiri...

A newspaper illustration from The Penny Satirist (6 September 1845), depicting the inmates of Andover workhouse fighting over bones to eat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prologue to the Scandal – In Brief

Before 1834, parishes provided relief to the poor through the Old Poor Law which had been in effect since Tudor times. The population of England grew by 60% to almost 15 million in the first 30 years of the 19th century, and did so at the same time that mechanised threshing machines began to reduce the need for labourers on the land. The combination of this and the reduced demand to produce food for an Army and Navy no longer at war with France, meant that those on the land suffered greatly during this time.

As the Old Poor Law was inadequate to cater to the dangerously increasing demands upon England’s parishes, workhouses were ill equipped to feed, clothe and house its inmates. Between July and November, 1830, the Swing Riots (protests over mechanised threshing) broke out in Kent and soon spread across the country. Mob rule prevailed, and the ensuing trials saw resultant hangings, transportation and incarceration. It was only when the Government stepped in and a New Poor Law came into effect in 1834, that workhouse inmates began to receive better food, shelter and living conditions and the hoi polloi settled a little. The New Poor Law was managed by grouping parishes into “unions” and sharing the cost of supporting the needy through those Parish Unions. Sadly for those in the Andover Workhouse, the New Poor Law was not heeded.

Bloody Fights, Seduction of Inmates and Stealing Rations


Inmates in a London Workhouse – Late 1800s

In 1845, the Master of the Andover Workhouse was one Colin McDougal, a Waterloo veteran with a penchant for cruelty and violence. His wife, Mary Ann, was described by those who knew her as “a violent lady”, and between the two of them the McDougals ran the institution like a harsh penal colony. McDougal constantly diminished the inmates’ rations by stealing the food to make money for himself, and the inmates were forced to eat with their fingers (possibly because the McDougals had sold the silverware). Conditions became so desperate that many male inmates deliberately committed crimes in order to be thrown into prison, where the food and working conditions were far better.

McDougal and his wife fought whenever he got drunk, and the fights were often bloody and peppered with his wife’s threats to kill herself. Mary Ann McDougal’s state of mind may have been the result of McDougal’s attempts to seduce some of the younger women inmates. McDougal’s son was employed as a schoolmaster at Andover, and he too was intent on seducing young female inmates. Babies died often in such desperate conditions, and McDougal had them listed as stillborn in order to avoid explaining why the children weren’t baptised. (Baptism cost the workhouse a shilling a time). He even once went as far as forcing one poor woman to carry her own baby in its coffin to the cemetery for burial.

The Whistleblower

Staff working at the Andover Workhouse were aware of the McDougals’ transgressions, but feared they would lose their jobs if they spoke up (especially if it meant ending up as an inmate at Andover!). Finally, Hugh Mundy, one of the Workhouse Guardians, witnessed male inmates fighting over bones that they were supposed to crush into fertiliser for local farms. When he saw men so desperate for food that they picked marrow and gristle from rotting bones in order to have something in their stomachs, he could hold his tongue no longer. He raised the issue at a board meeting, but the only response was to suspend bone crushing operations in hot weather. Undeterred, Mundy took his concerns to his local Member of Parliament, Thomas Wakely.

 Thankfully, Wakely raised the question in Parliament on August 1st, 1845. He related tales of paupers who “were in the habit of quarrelling with each other about the bones, of extracting the marrow, and of gnawing the meat.” Although the Home Secretary found Wakely’s words difficult to believe, he had the sense to instigate an immediate inquiry, and sent Henry Parker, the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner down to Andover the following day.

Parker discovered that the allegations were true, and that the inmates had indeed been starved by their cruel masters. Six months after Wakely raised his concerns in Parliament and Parker visited Andover, the Poor Law Commission grudgingly acknowledged that the Andover inmates were required to crush bones. Nothing was mentioned about the inhumane conditions. Only when twelve months had elapsed, did a Parliamentary Committee come into being as a tool to investigate the administration of the Andover Workhouse. Those in charge at Andover finally conceded that the inmates had been given insufficient rations due to “an administrative error.”  Witnesses however had a very different story to tell.

Starving Inmates Eat Rotten Bones Destined to be Fertiliser

On a starvation diet, inmates were required to use 28 pound “rammers” to smash bones in a large bone-tub. The bones were rotten and malodourous, and boys as young as eight worked in pairs to wield the rammer. Flying shards of bone often stabbed the inmates’ faces, and blistered hands were a constant and painful problem, especially when in contact with rotten bones. Those in charge at Andover thought it an excellent pursuit for paupers, mainly because they bought bones at 17 shillings a ton and sold the bone dust at 24 shillings a ton.


Rules of the Later Poor Law Board

At the enquiry, 61-year-old Samuel Green described what happened when fresh bones arrived at the Andover Workhouse.

“…we used to tell the fresh bones by the look of them and then we used to be like a parcel of dogs after them; some were not so particular about the bones being fresh as others. I like the fresh bones – I never touched one that was a little high; the marrow was as good as the meat. It was all covered over by bone; that was when they were fresh and good. Sometimes I have had one that was stale and stunk and I eat it even then. I eat it when it was stale and stinking because I was hungered, I suppose. You see we only had bread and gruel for breakfast, and as there was no bread allowed on meat days for dinner, we saved our bread from breakfast, and then, having had only gruel for breakfast, we were hungry before dinner-time. To satisfy our hunger a little, because a pint and a half of gruel is not much for a man’s breakfast, we eat the stale and stinking meat. If we could get a fresh bone we did not take the stale and stinking meat. The allowance of potatoes at dinner on meat days is half a pound, but we used to get nearly a pound, seven or eight middling sized potatoes. The food we got in the workhouse was very good; I could not wish better, all I wanted was a little more… I have seen a man named Reeves eat horse-flesh off the bones.”

 Charles Lewis, a labourer inmate, also answered a number of direct questions from Wakely himself about the conditions at Andover.

Wakely           During the time you were so employed, did you ever see any of the men gnaw anything or eat anything from those bones?

Lewis               I have seen them eat marrow out of the bones

Wakely            Have you often seen them eat the marrow?

Lewis               I have

Wakely            Did they state why they did it?

Lewis               I really believe they were very hungry

Wakely            Did you yourself feel extremely hungry at that time?

Lewis               I did, but my stomach would not take it.

Wakely            You could not swallow the marrow?

Lewis               No

Wakely            Did you see any of the men gnaw the meat from the bones? 

Lewis               Yes

Wakely            Did they use to steal the bones and hid them away?

Lewis               Yes

Wakely            Have you seen them have a scramble and quarrel amongst the bones?

Lewis               I do not know that I have seen them scramble, but I have seen them hide them.

Wakely            And when a fresh set of bones came in, did they keep a sharp look-out for the best?

Lewis               Yes

Wakely            Was that a regular thing? 

Lewis               While I was there.

The Outcome

One year and five months after Wakely first raised the issue in Parliament, the Select Committee published an enormous, two-volume report into the scandal. As a result of the report, the McDougals were found to be unfit to hold their posts as Master and Matron of the Workhouse. The following year, the Poor Law Commission (who had mismanaged the enquiry) was abolished. In its place, the Poor Law Board was set up and made totally accountable to Parliament.

As to the Andover Guardians – they seem to have learned little from the scandal. In McDougal’s place they appointed a new master, who was a former prison officer from Parkhurst Gaol. The new master was dismissed within three years for taking liberties with female inmates.

Andover was not the only workhouse to treat its inmates in such an inhumane manner, and many other scandals were to rear their heads in years to come. The Hungry Forties certainly took their toll on those unable to defend themselves when at the mercy of a poorly run Parish Union, and unable to do anything but accept insufficient care rather than starve.

The Andover Workhouse Today

The Andover Workhouse Today


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From E-Book Ignoramus to Electronically Published in Three Days!

How Smashwords Turned Confusion into Confidence

Are you an eBook ignoramus?

Until last week, I was certainly in the dark about how to successfully convert my independently published paperbacks into beautifully presented eBooks. My only exposure to the process had been through Amazon’s KDP, and the results of simply uploading my original Word manuscript into that system were woeful to say the least.

That’s not to say that KDP left me totally in the cold with what they had to offer, but the moment I looked at their Tools and Resources page, a veil of Geekish White Noise descended upon me – one which made it impossible to understand what I should be doing with my pride and joy. As soon as I saw the enormous menu and the array of downloads available, I panicked and surrendered, which resulted in the most awful dog’s breakfast of an eBook. I don’t blame KDP for this – I blame me for failing to understand and absorb KDP’s requirements for epublishing. I simply don’t get it and I suspect I never will.

computer confusion

Additionally, I was feeling frustrated that I couldn’t offer my first eBook, The Horseman’s Desire, for free on Amazon. As it is the first in a series of five Historical Romances, I had planned to whet readers’ appetites with the first book before offering the next four books for $1.99 each. Sadly, unless you are a registered publisher, you are limited to a minimum price of $0.99 on Amazon. Many indie authors get around this by placing their eBook on Barnes & Noble for free, and then notifying Amazon to adjust their price to match. As my only attempt at creating a Kindle version of my books had failed miserably, I decided not to bother – mainly because the results were embarrassing.

Having therefore given up on the whole eBook thing, a chance post in a Facebook book review group piqued my interest last week. The author simply said “Download my new eBook for free from Smashwords”, and I automatically thought “What the hell is Smashwords?” Still suffering from fear of the aforementioned Geekish White Noise, I tentatively Googled Smashwords and started poking around in it, but I held out little hope for enlightenment. Boy – was I wrong!

crowd-runningReaders, if your book isn’t in electronic format and you want to make it so, run, walk, claw, scratch and fight your way to your computer and use Smashwords – unless you’re more electronically ignorant that I am, you will be delighted with the results!

 The moment I arrived at Smashword’s Home Page, I clicked the Publish tab and was faced with only three instructions, the first of which directed me to read The Smashwords Style Guide. Groaning at the thought of what I might face, I decided to download the guide, and was both shocked and delighted with the way in which it was written – for the electronic ignoramus (me)! Not only did Smashwords tell me what to do, but it told me WHY I had to remove things like headers & footers, tabs, clever little chapter headings and such like. With the help of the guide, I finally understood that an eBook is not the same as an ordinary book, and that I shouldn’t be striving to make beautiful pages. Instead, I should accept that the electronic gizmo on which the book is read understands the simplest of commands and will do the work for me. Simple commands and I have always been the best of friends, so I followed the guide, looked at the sample books available for viewing and made the necessary alterations to all five of the novels in The Bartlemas Anthology.

It took me three days to make the necessary adjustments to all five books, but once I uploaded the first (and made it available for FREE), I saw my work successfully converted into nine different eBook reading formats (HTML, Kindle, Epub, PDF, RTF, LRF, Palm Doc, Plain Text (download) & Plain Text (view). I can now rattle off these names with seemingly gay abandon, but still don’t have a clue what most of them are. Do I care? Not at all! I simply know that I have now satisfied all of the requirements that ensure the reading pleasure of those who download the eBooks in The Bartlemas Anthology. In Geekish White Noise terms, I have passed Smashword’s AutoVettor and have no errors. In baby boomer author terms, I feel smarter than my computer guy right now (giggle).


Thank you, Smashwords, for making it easy and for talking to me without a veil of Geekish White Noise to terrify me. You have liberated this baby boomer author and have given me faith that I’m not ready for the electronic scrap heap yet. You didn’t promise me the world in terms of sales or downloads, and you didn’t blow megabytes of smoke up my bottom – you just talked my language and told me how EVIL that little Tab Button can be in electronic publishing. (Sigh…bliss…gloat).

I might only be a small indie author from Oz, but if gobsmackingly awesome historical love stories are your thing, download your FREE COPY (tee hee) of The Horseman’s Desire here. A review of the book would also be appreciated (thank you).

Alternatively, if you’re not into gobsmackingly awesome historical love stories, why not download it anyway – if only to see what a beautifully formatted eBook can look like when electronically ignorant authors visit Smashwords and follow the instructions!

Have a fantastic day folks!

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The Appropriate Use of You-Know-What, You-Know-Where and You-Know-How


Perhaps I’m a little odd, but I have a thing about hygiene in Historical Romance. Whenever the captain of a buccaneering vessel sweeps his love interest into his arms and carries her into his cabin, I tend to wonder when he (or she) last washed. I know, I know; we are supposed to presume that our protagonist and love interest have taken care of the essentials, but the question of love’s bare necessities remains for me.

Perhaps my obsession comes as a result of the years I spent studying history, and the need to understand it at its contextual level. As a student, I was expected to research everything and assume nothing before attempting to offer my opinion. As there were no Regency rakes hiding in 19th century census transcripts, and little mention of heaving bosoms among the Old Bailey records, the hard graft of understanding the ordinary person took precedence. Then again, my sanitary preoccupation might be the result of my addiction to Time Team, and Phil Harding’s love of the ‘good tomato growing soil’ at the base of a castle’s long drop toilet system. Regardless, historical hygiene has always fascinated me.

Paula Lofting, author of Sons of the Wolf, is a childhood friend of mine, and our shared passion for our writing and our children has seen us through most of our lives together. When Paula’s debut novel began to take shape, and her ongoing involvement with Regia Anglorum fascinated me, I recall wanting to know all about pre 1066 England. So excited was I, that my first question was, ‘So, what did the Anglo Saxons use for toilet paper?’ It’s true; the University of Oxford conferred upon me a piece of paper assuring the world of my historical abilities, and I ignored the status of Anglo Saxon women, their societal structure, architecture, medical knowledge and so much more, to ask about the act of wiping one’s nether regions!

All buccaneers, rakes, heaving bosoms and moss wiped bottoms aside, I have to wonder if this is a subject considered by other Historical Romance readers. Are the undergarments, unmentionables and undesirables better left unsaid in Historical Romance? Personally, I believe that the more of life’s ‘little things’ there are in historical fiction, the more it can lend credibility to a good story. I’m not suggesting that a hero or heroine should be portrayed as an OCD sufferer in a ritual cleansing frenzy, and nor do I believe that a manifest of undergarments should be provided each time anybody disrobes. No; what I would prefer to see is the occasional, tasteful reference to how they kept themselves clean, and to ensure that it is appropriate to the era in which they lived.

This requires a fair amount of research, but it can pay dividends in terms of believability. The practise of soap making, for instance, is an ancient one, and lye soap has been used by everybody with access to animal fat, ash and a fire since time immemorial; possibly since before the Anglo Saxons were gathering moss for the purpose of wiping themselves! Lye soap however, was only fashioned into solid cakes when mixed with salt, and was definitely not to be applied to the face in that form; not unless the heroine was intent on ageing before a reader’s eyes. Soft lye soap was used for bathing, and was generally scooped from a pot with the fingers.

Toothbrushes too, have been around in one form or another for centuries, and toothpaste as we know it today since at least the 19th century. Before then, salt or charcoal were the most effective dental cleansers. There were no antiperspirants in days of yore, but deodorants in the form of powders and perfumes were in common use by the middling and upper classes since the Middle Ages at the very least. As to underwear, the simple act of having one’s bloomers (the precursors to pantaloons) removed in the late 18th and early to mid 19th centuries, required the removal of two separate legs, each joined by a tied fronts piece. This is the context about which I write when discussing historical accuracy and the ‘little things’.

Often in fiction, the most unmentionable of all subjects is a woman’s menstrual cycle; something requiring a well crafted and sensitive approach by an author. It is difficult to ignore the subject if a fornicating couple is trapped by marauding abductors for anything in excess of three weeks, as the inevitable will happen; from puberty to menopause, you can generally set your clock by it. Pregnancy too, is the result of sexual activity at a certain time in a woman’s cycle, and the credibility of a story can often hinge upon such trivialities as the moon and the calendar. Historical Romance authors should ignore these realities at their own peril; but how can they be addressed without risking it being overdone to the point of distraction? I believe that it’s all about balance, and I offer the following advice to those struggling with subjects from moss to menses, and everything in between.

Heroines can simply catch a glimpse of a little soap at the base of an earlobe, thus assuring the reader that her love interest is ship-shape in the cleanliness stakes. Alternatively, the hair at the nape of his neck might be damp from his ablutions, or his own musk might mingle with the aroma of lye soap as she falls into his embrace. When crafted as a passing mention, these details don’t detract from the scene itself, but they serve to give characters substance. The requirement for a certain level of cleanliness is something we share with our forebears, and thus it can transcend the ages and allow readers to relate; something all authors continually strive to achieve.

The inevitable ‘monthlies’ (a term used in antiquity, and still common in the 1950’s) are bound to crop up in a book spanning a time frame in excess of three weeks. It doesn’t have to be spelled out in gruesome detail, but the passing mention of a heroine’s cramps slowing her morning routine can convey to a reader that she is just as human as the rest of us. Childbirth too, can be an interesting subject, but many authors struggle between providing too much or too little information. If it is essential to the plot, a well written delivery (in history, the woman was delivered of the child; the child was not delivered) can add a wonderful dimension to a story. Again, this must be done in the context of the times, and in keeping with the heroine’s knowledge of childbirth. Words such as uterus, contraction, umbilical cord and birth canal have only been in general circulation in modern times, whereas pain, cramp, urge, sting and push are timeless.

Long underwear on men is another area of fascination for me. Although the nightshirt, nightcap and long undies of antiquity predominate in modern depictions of life in Tudor England, 19th century Midwestern saloons and colonial plantations, the truth of the matter is that not all men wore long underwear. To begin with, the impoverished Dorsetshire agricultural labourer had little chance of affording such a luxury, and I can assure you that no early Australian settler in his right mind would wear long woollen undies and trousers when the mercury hovered around the 110 mark for weeks on end. The latter labouring fellow would either cut out the legs from the offending undergarment, or opt to ‘free-ball’, in order to survive the rigours of his environment.


I suspect also, that stays, corsets, crinolines and bustles for colonial working class women were reserved for the advent of company, or for venturing outside of the homestead for church, as any restriction to working efficiently would necessitate its removal. Books and electronic sources detail what people wore in a certain era, and such resources contain wonderful descriptions and drawings of clothing and accessories, equipping the historical fiction author with everything they need to put a heroine’s ensemble together. The author must however, be wary of out-thinking daily life, and should acknowledge that life’s practicalities also come into the picture; after all, the flip-flop is not a modern invention, and was worn by the Japanese for centuries. As to the aforementioned night attire, it’s all very well to rug up for a night in a Hebridean crofter’s hut, but sweltering nights in the colonial tropics are best survived by wearing as little as possible under netting, thus allowing perspiration to help cool the skin.

Finally, let us not forget the most basic function of all; toileting oneself. No romance reader, historical or otherwise, wants to be faced with the prospect of Lord Dunraven grabbing a copy of The Times and heading for his era’s version of the thunderbox; God forbid! The thought is as abhorrent as any mention of poorly functioning bowels, and any author in breach of this unwritten law should find a sturdy cane and administer themselves a damned sound thrashing. If however, mention of ‘the pot’ is appropriate to a scene, it should be tasteful, fleeting and non descriptive, and used only as a means of adding believability.

I admit that I like Historical Romances with the right doses of ablutionary reality in them, but only as a means of giving characters and situations believability and depth. I need to rest assured that a kiss allows a heroine to be the recipient of a man’s passion, and not the remnants of the pease pudding and faggots he ate for dinner. Most importantly, I strive to provide my own readers with the correct doses of subliminal reassurance that teeth are clean, nether regions are fresh and underwear is laundered, regardless of marauding abductors and the calendar.


It’s fairly late as I finish this Blog, and I’m well overdue for a you-know-what, you-know-how and you-know-where (hot cup of tea, white and sweet, in bed). I shall bid you all good night, climb into my 21st century night attire, and start thinking about my next Blog.


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The Circus in Victorian Times

When we think of the circus today, we immediately conjure up images of elephants, lion tamers, clowns and other exotic animals. In 1768, England’s first circus was nothing like that; set up by an ex-cavalry man named Philip Astley, the circus was part of a Lambeth riding school. Astley taught horsemanship in the mornings and performed tricks on horseback in the afternoons. His wife provided musical accompaniment by beating on a large drum, and even went as far as circling the ring on horseback with a swarm of bees covering her hands!

1798 Circus Playbill

Circus Playbill from 1798

In 1843, the setting of The Horseman’s Desire, the circus itself bore some similarity to what it would become over the ensuing half decade. Long before Barnum and Bailey touted themselves in 1898 as the Greatest Show on Earth, bands of roving performers moved from village common to village common, entertaining the hoi polloi with the most rudimentary of fairground performances. In researching material for the book, I discovered that there was little structure to the circus of the time, with some merely a part of a larger fair, some performed in theatres and others were little more than a band of gypsies adept at horse riding tricks.

 The Big Top was yet to be included as part of the English circus in the mid 19th century, and it took 22 years for England to adopt the American use of canvas. In 1842, Richard Sand’s American Circus arrived in Liverpool, England and introduced something advertised as a Splendid and novel pavillion. Before it was imitated all over the country, most circuses consisted of an open air ring of rope in which performers displayed their talents. Those talents generally consisted of trick riding (Edmund Bartlemas, the male hero of The Horseman’s Desire was a trick rider), high wire walking, tumbling and comic tramps (the forebears of today’s clown). The clown was yet to be defined in name as part of the circus, and it was comic tramps who provided the amusement for onlookers. Little people were a large part of the comic tramp act, which was one of the most important aspects of the entertainment. The Keystone Cops, so popular in early American film, had their roots in the comic tramp act as they were chased by police and found themselves in all sorts of sticky situations before escaping to the cheers of the crowds.

Charlie keith abt 1840

Charlie Keith in about 1840

Very early circuses were dangerous places (as were most Victorian places of work), and death or serious injury was a frequent visitor. Pablo Fanque, a circus proprietor, took over a temporary wooden circus in Leeds in 1848. Unbeknownst to Fanque, the previous owners had removed beam-props when vacating the premises, and Fanque’s wife was killed when the gallery and pit of the wooden circus collapsed. Larger circuses announced their arrival in towns with a parade, and while very few circus proprietors had the luxury of staging such an event, Edwin Hughes of Batty’s London Circus went as far as using camels and an elephant in his parade as early as 1843. While rare, such displays were to set the scene for the future of the circus in the latter half of the century. Hughes also used chariots in his parades, which he later sold to an American. This single sale was the catalyst for the advent of the far more lavish American circus parades, and in 1880, Forepaugh’s circus parade took five hours to pass through the streets of New York!

Barnum and bailey parade Late 19th C

Barnum & Bailey Circus Parade in the late 19th Century

From the 1840’s to the 1880s, the circus emerged from raggle taggle roots to a magnificent, well managed and highly disciplined form of entertainment, bearing little similarity to what it had been and yet maintaining its trick riding, high wire walking and comic tramps throughout its history and into the modern day. It beggars belief that many early performers survived their rudimentary perils to emerge in the latter half of the century as great entrepreneurs such as Barnum & Bailey, Lord George Sanger and Charlie Keith. Today’s entertainments owe a lot to the Victorian Circus, and none more than a young Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops!

As you read of Edmund Bartlemas‘ exploits as a circus horseman in The Horseman’s Desire, perhaps you can imagine a little more about the people and the time in which Circus was destined to become The Greatest Show on Earth!

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