Tag: Manchester Slums

Research for Book One

I’ve been searching my family history for well over twenty years, amassing information and books from the early 1800’s to 1930’s.  Book One, Toil Under the Sun, is really a compilation of much of my research.  What you are going to read upon release November 1, are historical accounts gleaned from this group of material.

This particular book was a good resource regarding the building of the town hall. The planning started in 1863 but the Town Hall wasn’t completed and opened until September of 1877.  The construction was plagued by multiple worker strikes.  To read more about it, you can visit Wikipedia. 

On one of my trips to Manchester, I did visit the impressive building and interior.

What shocked me the most regarding this discovery was that my third great-grandfather, wife, and child lived two blocks from the area that was known as Angel Meadow.  I’m sure being two blocks from these notorious slums still placed the family in the middle of the worse areas of Manchester during the mid-1860s.  This book is an eye-opening experience for the author who also discovered his ancestors lived at this location.

My introduction to this court proceeding was discovered from searching articles about unions on the British Newspaper Archives.  By the way, if you’re into ancestry research in England, this is a great source. I found numerous articles regarding my second great uncle, as well as the testimony when these proceedings took place.

It is a fascinating read into the incidents of that time. You might think twice about mild-manner bricklayers. These men were often violent in their pursuits to protect their trade and became known as terrorists and despots of their class. Of course, that is how history has recorded them, but they were working folks protecting a trade that kept roofs over their heads and food on the table. Most of their actions are driven by desperation to survive. It’s an interesting read from 1867.

These two references were of great help. Broughton and Cheetham Hill especially helped me to set the scene for the location.

Radical Salford focuses much on the political landscape and the growing socialist movements of the time, which will be weaved into Book Two.

Let it not be said that I didn’t read about the craft, although I’ve never laid a brick myself. I did, however, take home a piece of brick from my second great uncle’s twelve bedroom home still standing in Higher Broughton as a memento from one of my trips. Thank goodness it made it back to the USA.

To add to the fun of research, you need historical maps. There are plenty to find online which helps immensely in visualizing the area while writing. The University of Manchester has a wonderful collection online at Maps Collection. Manchester Libraries, Information, and Archives, Manchester City Council are the rights holder but they do allow you to share, embed, print, and download the maps.

One of the most disparaging reviews an author receives is when readers don’t find your books believable. I’ve done my best to do my homework in historical romances and family sagas. Some of what you may read will sound outrageous and shocking, but in reality, such times existed. I’m sure the majority of ladies would rather focus on the titled aristocrats and cushy way of life with a 10,000 pounds a year or more income. However, that lifestyle only accounted for a very small majority of the English population. However, it doesn’t, in my opinion, make the lives of the working class any less interesting in their pursuits.

All my best,

Vicki

 

 

Reality – Who Wants to Read It?

Beautiful dresses. Stately homes. Titled aristocrats. Wealthy yearly incomes. Those are usually the things that readers love to fantasize about when they read historical fiction or historical romance.

The best-selling books on the market are not about the miserable lives in the Victorian era. It has become obvious by some harsh reviews I received on The Price of Innocence, that some called a “miserable book,” readers would rather not think about the squalor 90% of the population experienced in Victorian England. Nevertheless, the authors who lived in those eras – like Dickens and Gaskell – had no qualms about penning reality in their stories because they were important social issues.

Toil Under the Sun, the first book in my series, will be somewhat Dickenish in a few chapters. I’m attempting to soften the blow by interesting characters. There are no beautiful dresses, stately homes (unless you’re hired as a brickmaker to construct one), or wealthy yearly incomes. Instead of canopy beds, it’s a hard, lumpy mattress on a platform or more likely the floor. Those with no home slump over a rope in a doss house to get some shut-eye, or pay a few shillings a night to share a bed with a lice-ridden individual in a common lodging house.  (The lice were free.)

There was no running water, so people bathed at washhouses if they could afford to pay the price. Public fountains were around town to fill up your buckets for water and carry them home but were a cesspool of germs. (Read More Here) I’ll spare you the gory details about where and how people relieved themselves because you’ll die from the stench alone or some related disease. Some parts of Manchester were called hell on earth in those days. (Read More Here)  I was shocked to learn that my third great-grandfather, Henry Holland, lived two blocks away from the slum area in this article during 1851, and he was a journeyman bricklayer that could make a wage.  It broke my heart.

“The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel-meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness…” (Angus Reach, a London Journalist 1849)

When Elizabeth Gaskell wrote North & South, she lived in Manchester. (I’ve visited her home and you can read about here on my author blog.) Even though she chose Milton as the make-believe town where Mr. Thornton had his cotton mill, the hell as penned by Margaret was, “I’ve seen hell and it’s white.” Perhaps that was true inside, but outside the air filled with smoke from the chimneys of factories, and the brick buildings were blackened with soot.

The idea of children being cared for by nannies and brought up by governesses is a far cry from the reality of young children who worked in factories to help with family finances. Rarely, did a child have the opportunity to learn to read or write. The boys were taught more often than the girls even in the middle class. Quite a few of my ancestors, including my second great-grandfather, merely put an “X” on the marriage bann because he couldn’t scribble his own name.

Nevertheless, out of the poverty, one person can rise above and build an empire of wealth for his family and descendants. How my second great uncle accomplished that task in the world described above is beyond my comprehension.

As I write how my protagonist, William Leighton, accomplishes it, the entire story is purely conjecturing on my part but, hopefully, will make for good reading.

Sorry for the downer post!  I promise the majority of the squalor will only last the first eight chapters, then things start looking up!  No need to throw book one across the room when you finish it.

Cheers!

Vicki

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