Train schedules, black fogs and canal systems. Oh, the joys of historical romance research!
Welcome to my world, or more accurately, welcome to the Gentlemen of Scotland Yard’s world. Because I write historical romantic suspense, I do a good deal of pre-research as I outline each story. A lot of this early research is more like a feasibility study. Since A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis is a road trip romance/adventure I had a lot of questions about train schedules, terrain, timelines, and types of vehicles they might use to get from point A to point B. Example:
Question: How long did it take a train to get from London to Edinburgh in 1887?
Answer: Seven and a half hours.
Initially, I spend most of my time on the internet bookmarking websites, maps, and Wiki-pages. It seems like I’m always scrounging around for obscure bits of information I can’t find online, so I often end up purchasing reference books, as well. I have amassed a fairly substantial library on the darker, seedier side of life in late Victorian London. I take perverse pleasure in sprinkling in odd bits of world building atmosphere––a bit of black fog to “darken” the stories. It’s surprising how even the weather details of a particular period and place can play a fascinating role in storytelling.
Question: What is a London black fog? (Also known as a pea souper.)
Answer: A toxic mix of dense fog and sooty black coal smoke. Often yellowish, greenish, or blackish in color, the fog was made up of soot particulates and the poisonous gas sulfur dioxide. The thought was that as the smoke coming out of London's chimneys mixed with natural fog, the air turned colder. Londoners heaped more coal on their fires, creating more smoke and even denser fog. In A Study in Scarlet (1887) Sherlock Holmes mentions "a dun-coloured veil hung over the house-tops." These fogs could also be lethal, causing large numbers of deaths from respiratory problems.
While writing A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis, I did quite a bit of research on the British canal system, and as I was surfing around the internet, it occurred to me that I might write a blog about this elaborate network of waterways. According to my notes from Wikipedia, the water transport system played a vital role in the United Kingdom's Industrial Revolution. Factoid: Among the first canal promoters were the pottery manufacturers of Staffordshire.
Britain’s Industrial period began during the mid-18th century and the canals were in full swing during the Regency period. It should be noted that the canals came into being because the Industrial Revolution demanded an economic and reliable way to transport goods and commodities in large quantities. The emerging industrial areas of the Staffordshire potteries and Birmingham pressed for a system of canals and rivers that extended to London.
The boats on the canal were horse-drawn with a towpath alongside the canal for the horse to walk along. This horse-drawn system proved to be highly economical and became standard across the canal network.
The time period I write in for The Gentlemen of Scotland Yard series is late Victorian 1887-91. By the second half of the 19th century, many canals were increasingly becoming owned by railway companies or competing with them. The canals were still in use, but were also in decline.
In A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis, my characters, Detective Rafe Lewis and Fanny Greyville-Nugent are making their way from Edinburgh to London, pursued by a private army of anti-progressive anarchists bent abducting the young industrial heiress. On the last leg of their journey, they make contact with an inventor who needs to get his experimental submersible to London for the Industrial Exposition. The trio board a train in Glasgow and travel to an ironworks in Oxfordshire, where they pick up the inventor’s submarine. (The submersible is having it’s hull reinforced and is being refitted with arc lamps for lighting.)
My story outline called for the ironworks to be located on a canal that would connect with the Thames. By Googling Ironworks, Oxfordshire, Oxford Canals, Henley on Thames, Nettlebed Wood, I found just the place that could repair and refit an experimental underwater craft: Lucy’s Ironworks.
I don’t wish to give away too much of the story, but our intrepid couple makes their way down the canal, through the locks to reach the Thames, only to...
What happens to them after that? Sorry, I’m no spoiler!
I’d like to thank Catherine Gayle for inviting me on Lady Scribes. I will be checking in throughout the day to answer questions about the canal system or any other questions you might have about world building for historical romance. I have a signed copy of A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis for one lucky commenter. Let’s chat!
The Lady Scribes and our guests always look forward to hearing your thoughts. If you would like to be entered into the drawing for a copy of Jillian Stone's A Dangerous Liaison with Detective Lewis, please include your email address. Only relevant comments adding to today’s discussion will be eligible for the drawing. US and Canada mailing addresses only.