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Dear Reader

Dear Reader #103

Dear Reader,

Published on 5 June 2021, many thanks to everyone who has placed Operation Sherlock, Eve’s War book five, in the top thirty hot new releases.

Currently, I’m storyboarding The Olive Tree: Leaves, book three in my Spanish Civil War saga. This story centres on the Battle of Brunete (6–25 July 1937) and a race against time to evacuate children before the fascists controlled the northern Spanish ports.

Map credit: Wikipedia

Several branches of my family came from the West Country. This is Avon Street, Bath, Somerset 1880, a street that must have been familiar to some of them.

Mapping My Ancestors

Maps Five and Six: 1750 – 1800

New counties on Map Five are Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Cheshire. Various ancestors from these counties either moved to London or married someone from London during this period. 

On Map Six my Canadian ancestors emigrated to that country from Yorkshire and Durham while a branch of my family moved to Cheshire from the Netherlands, possibly in connection with the cloth trade. Several branches of my family established plantations in Barbados and one ancestor was ‘Born at Sea’. The exact location wasn’t recorded, but I suspect it was during a journey from the West Indies to Britain. More research required. Captains used to fire their guns to ‘encourage’ women to give birth, hence ‘son of a gun.’

My  7 x great grandmother Sarah Wildsmith was born in London in 1698 to affluent parents. On 23 October 1719 she married Philip Spooner, a ‘gentleman’. However, an air of mystery surrounds the marriage for it was a Clandestine Marriage, a Fleet Marriage, pictured.

A Fleet Marriage was an example of an irregular or Clandestine Marriage that took place in England before the Marriage Act of 1753. Specifically, it was a marriage that took place in London’s Fleet Prison or its environs during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

By the 1740s up to 6,000 marriages a year were taking place in the Fleet area, compared with 47,000 marriages in England as a whole. One estimate suggests that there were between 70 and 100 clergymen working in the Fleet area between 1700 and 1753. The social status of the couples varied. Some were criminals, others were poor. Some were wealthy while many simply sought a quick or secret marriage for numerous personal reasons.

Sarah and Philip’s marriage was recorded in the ‘Registers of Clandestine Marriages and of Baptisms in the Fleet Prison, King’s Bench Prison, the Mint and the Mayfair Chapel.’ I assume the couple were married in Mayfair Chapel. However, maybe not because in 1729 Philip found himself in a debtors’ prison.

Debtors’ prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debts. Destitute people who could not pay a court-ordered judgment were incarcerated in these prisons until they had worked off their debt or secured outside funds to pay the balance. 

In England, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 10,000 people were imprisoned for debt each year. However, a prison term did not alleviate a person’s debt; an inmate was typically required to repay the creditor in full before their release.

In England and Wales debtors’ prisons varied in the amount of freedom they allowed the debtor. Through his family’s financial support a debtor could pay for certain freedoms; some prisons allowed inmates to conduct business and to receive visitors while others even allowed inmates to live a short distance outside the prison, a practice known as the ‘Liberty of the Rules.’

A mid-Victorian depiction of the debtors’ prison

Along with the embarrassment for the family, life in these prisons was unpleasant. Often, single cells were occupied by a mixture of gentlemen, violent criminals and labourers down on their luck. Conditions were unsanitary and disease was rife.

Many notable people found themselves in a debtors’ prison including Charles Dickens’ father, John. Later, Dickens became an advocate for debt prison reform, and his novel Little Dorrit dealt directly with this issue.

More tragedy befell Sarah in 1729 when Philip died, possibly from gaol fever contracted at the prison. Gaol fever, was common in English prisons. These days, we believe it was a form of typhus. The disease spread in dark, dirty rooms where prisoners were crowded together allowing lice to spread easily.

Alone, and in financial difficulties, Sarah had to regroup and rebuild her life, which she did.

Sarah’s fortunes changed in 1731 when she married Gregory Wright, my direct ancestor. Gregory was also a ‘gentleman’ running a successful stable and coach business. Once again, the marriage was registered in the ‘Registers of Clandestine Marriages and of Baptisms in the Fleet Prison, King’s Bench Prison, the Mint and the Mayfair Chapel.’

Sarah’s Fleet Marriages raise the question: were her husbands in debt when she married them? With Philip Spooner this is a possibility because he did end his days in a debtors’ prison. However, the records suggest that Gregory Wright ran a successful coaching business and that debt was not an aspect of his life. Wealthy people participated in Fleet Marriages, especially if they sought secrecy or a quick marriage. It would appear that Sarah’s marriage to Gregory Wright fell into that category.

For Sarah and Gregory a child followed in 1739, my 6 x great grandfather William Wright, born in St Dunstan in the West, London. At last, Sarah had found contentment. However, drama followed in 1752 when Gregory featured in two trials at the Old Bailey. More about them next time.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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Categories
Dear Reader

Dear Reader #102

Dear Reader,

A busy time preparing my books for the next nine months. Projects include: Damaged, book nineteen in my Sam Smith Mystery Series; Leaves, book three in The Olive Tree, my Spanish Civil War saga; Operation Cameo, book six in my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series and Colette, A Schoolteacher’s War, book one in a new series about various women and their participation in the French Resistance.

My latest translation, the Portuguese version of Operation Treasure. I’m delighted that Dilaine will continue to translate my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE Series.

Mapping my ancestors over the past thousand years.

Maps Three and Four: 1800 – 1850

These maps highlight the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. My Welsh ancestors remained fairly settled, mainly working on the land. Ancestors moved from Cardiganshire to Glamorgan, but the rest remained in their native communities.

In England, the story was different. Ancestors moved from Berkshire, Limerick, Lincolnshire and Hertfordshire taking their trades as carpenters, nurses and stone masons to London. Other branches, in Durham, Somerset and Essex intermarried with London ancestors while branches of my Durham and Yorkshire family emigrated to Ontario in Canada.

This speaks for itself 👇

I have discovered many fascinating stories while researching my ancestors this week. These include: marriages in London’s Fleet Prison, pictured, people in a debtors prison, slave owners in Barbados, a medal won during the Napoleonic Wars, Old Bailey trials, transportations to the penal colonies of Australia, and ancestors who ran an inn, which possibly doubled as a brothel. I look forward to sharing details of these stories with you in future weeks.

My 20 x great grandmother Isabella of Castile, Duchess of York, was born in 1355, the daughter of Pedro Alfónsez (Pedro I) “Rey de Castilla y León, el Cruel” and his favourite mistress Maria de Padilla.

Isabella accompanied her elder sister Constance to England after Constance’s marriage to John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and on 11 July 1372 married Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund Langley, 1st Duke of York, a man fourteen years her senior. The marriage was a political alliance to further the Plantagenet claim to the crown of Castile.

Chroniclers described Isabella and Edmund as ‘an ill-matched pair’. Isabella was flirtatious and committed many indiscretions, including an affair with Richard II’s half-brother, John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, a ‘violent and lawless’ man. 

Isabella of Castile

The chroniclers didn’t like Isabella and tarnished her reputation, taking exception to her ‘loose morals’. Of course, their comments must be seen within the context of the political intrigues of the day, which were numerous in Richard II’s court. It seems certain that Isabella did have affairs, no doubt looking for the love and affection that might have been absent in her marriage.

Officially, Isabella and Edmund produced three children: Edward, Constance (my direct ancestor) and Richard, although there is a suggestion that John Holland fathered Richard.

Isabella died on 23 December 1392, aged thirty-seven and was buried on 14 January 1393 at the church of the Dominicans at King’s Langley.  Shakespeare, however, brought Isabella back to life when he featured her in Act V of his play, Richard II, set in December 1399.

Coat of Arms of Castile, adopted by Isabella.

There are no records of the King’s Langley tombs. The priory surrendered to the Crown in 1536, but was not dissolved until 1559, when the estate passed into private hands. It’s assumed that the heraldic tomb-chest now standing in the north chapel of King’s Langley parish church originated from the priory. It was moved in 1877 and opened to reveal the disturbed remains of a sixty year old male and a forty year old female, thought to be Edmund and Isabella.

In her Will, Isabella bequeathed to the Duke of Lancaster, a tablet of Armenian jasper; to her son Edward, her crown; to Constance Despenser, her daughter, a fret of pearls; to the Duchess of Gloucester, her tablet of gold with images; and to Richard II her heart of pearls and the residue of her goods, in trust that he should allow his godson Richard, Isabella’s younger son, an annuity of 500 marks for life, a trust which Richard II, out of the great respect he bore for her, accepted.

Richard II loved pomp and pageantry, and it’s clear that Isabella had more in common with him than with her husband, Edmund. While Isabella’s marriage was no bed of roses, in Richard II’s flamboyant court I sense that she was at home, even though that home was a long way from her native Castile.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Bestselling psychological and historical mysteries from £0.99. Paperbacks, brand new in mint condition 🙂
https://hannah-howe.com/store/

Categories
Dear Reader

Dear Reader #101

Dear Reader,

My latest translation in Portuguese, The Olive Tree: Roots. A Spanish Civil War Saga. Available soon 🙂

Many of my London ancestors came from Lambeth. This is the Thames foreshore at Lambeth, c1866, a photograph by William Strudwick, one of a series showing images of working class London.

My article about SOE heroine Eileen Nearne appears on page 36 of this month’s Seaside News.

Mapping my ancestors over the past thousand years.

Map One: Twentieth Century.

My twentieth century ancestors lived in Glamorgan, London and Lancashire. My Glamorgan ancestors were born there while some of my London ancestors were evacuated to Lancashire during the Second World War where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Map Two: 1850 – 1900

Three new counties appear on this map: Carmarthenshire, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire. Yorkshire is represented by a sailor who lived in Canada for a while before settling in London. My Gloucestershire ancestors moved to London because they had family there, and no doubt they were looking for better employment opportunities. My Carmarthenshire ancestors moved to Glamorgan to work on the land, on the newly developing railway lines, and in the burgeoning coal mines. Some branches emigrated to Patagonia, but my direct ancestors remained in Glamorgan.

Published this weekend, Stormy Weather, book eighteen in my Sam Smith Mystery Series. My intention was to write one book, but I’m delighted that Sam convinced me to develop her story into a series 🙂

My 2 x great grandmother Jane Dent was baptised on 9 October 1870. The eldest daughter of Richard Davis Dent and Sarah Ann Cottrell, she lived in Whitechapel during the terror of Jack the Ripper.

The police investigated eleven brutal murders in Whitechapel and Spitalfields between 1888 and 1891. Subsequently, five of those murders were attributed to Jack the Ripper, those of Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, the murders taking place between 31 August and 9 November 1888.

The murders attracted widespread newspaper coverage and were obviously the major talking point within the Whitechapel community. What did that community look like and where did my ancestor, Jane Dent fit in?

Members of the public on the streets of Whitechapel, London, circa 1890.

By the 1840s, Whitechapel had evolved into the classic image of Dickensian London beset with problems of poverty and overcrowding as people moved into the city from the countryside, mingling with an influx of immigrants. In 1884, actor Jacob Adler wrote, “The further we penetrated into this Whitechapel, the more our hearts sank. Was this London? Never in Russia, never later in the worst slums of New York, were we to see such poverty as in the London of the 1880s.”

In October 1888, Whitechapel contained an estimated six-two brothels and 1,200 prostitutes. However, the suggestion that all the Ripper’s victims were prostitutes is a myth. At least three of them were homeless alcoholics. The common thread they shared was they had fallen on hard times.

Jane’s father, Richard Davis Dent, died in 1883 when she was twelve so Jane lived in Whitechapel with her mother, Sarah Ann, and younger brothers and sisters, Thomas, Arthur, Eliza, Robert and Mary. The 1881 census listed Jane as a scholar, and it’s likely that she became a domestic servant after her schooling.

Charles Booth’s poverty map of Whitechapel. The red areas are affluent while the black areas indicate criminals and extreme poverty.

The Dent family lived in Urban Place. Their neighbours included a toy maker, a tobacco pipe maker, a French polisher, a vellum blind maker and a cabinet maker. These people were skilled artisans, so it wasn’t the roughest of neighbourhoods. Nevertheless, did Jane and her family discuss Jack the Ripper and his latest atrocities over the dining table? Almost certainly they did, and mothers throughout the generations have echoed Sarah Ann’s warnings to her daughters.

Did Jane meet Jack the Ripper, socially, at work or in the street? Possibly. Did she have a suspect in mind? Her thoughts were not recorded so we will never know. Did she modify her behaviour and avoid Whitechapel’s network of dark and dangerous allies? It is to be hoped that she did.

Although there are numerous suspects, from butchers to members of the royal family, it’s unlikely that we will ever discover Jack the Ripper’s true identity. The police at the time were led in the main by retired army officers, and were not the brightest detectives. Forensic science was basically unknown, so evidence gathering was limited. Nevertheless, the police’s failure to identify Jack the Ripper does raise some serious questions. 

‘Blind Man’s Bluff’. A Punch cartoon by John Tenniel, 22 September 1888, criticising the police investigation.

Was there a cover-up? It’s likely that members of the royal family did visit prostitutes – this is a common theme over many centuries – and the government would have issued instructions to the police to cover-up any royal association with prostitutes for fear of a public backlash and revolution, which was rife in parts of Europe. Any royal cover-up would have hampered the investigation, but ultimately Jack the Ripper evaded arrest because the Victorian police force did not have the skills required to solve complex murders.

By 1891, the Whitechapel murders had ceased and Jane had married William Richard Stokes, a cabinet maker. The couple moved to Gee Street, in the St Luke’s district of London where they raised a family of nine children, including my direct ancestor, Arthur Stokes, and Robert Stokes who died on 26 June 1916 at Hébuterne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France during the First World War.

Jane Dent survived the terror of Jack the Ripper, but memories of his murders must have remained with her for the rest of her life. After all, she was only eighteen years old, an impressionable age in any era. She died on 6 June 1950 in the London suburb of Walthamstow.

As for Jack, I suspect that either he took his own life in November 1888 or, unknown as the Ripper, he entered an asylum at that time, and remained there for the rest of his life. Jack the Ripper was a compulsive murderer. He didn’t stop killing, something stopped him.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

Bestselling psychological and historical mysteries from £0.99. Paperbacks, brand new in mint condition 🙂
https://hannah-howe.com/store/