• Richard James

The Devil's In The Detail

Writing a piece of Victorian fiction is like being a detective oneself. At almost every page, things come to a halt for a little research (were there electric lights along the Strand? What's the difference between a hansom and a brougham carriage?). It's one of the joys of writing a series of stories set in 1892! This research could entail trawling through a book or two, pounding the streets of London, or a quick trip to Google. For the first book, The Head In The Ice, I spent some time looking into the daily regimes at Victorian Lunatic Asylums (Spoiler: they were actually far less forbidding than you might think). For the second, coming soon, I had a very brief chapter set in a jewellery shop, and I needed a safe. But just what did a Victorian safe look like? Were they wall mounted? Did they have combination locks?

It turns out that safes weren't standardised until 1917 and, prior to that, a safe might not have been very - well, safe. From the nineteenth century, safes were improved with a fire retardant compound that would dry over time and become less fire retardant. Locks were prone to being opened with a little gunpowder or (it seems) a prod with a long stick. A hefty lever could be applied to prise open the door. None of this mattered to me as the safe only features briefly, but it was important to get the dimensions and appearance correct. A quick search online brought me to this (see above). A sturdy, cast iron box with a brass plaque, handle and keyhole. Perfect. And a perfect illustration that, even with the smallest item mentioned however briefly in the shortest of chapters, the Devil's in the detail.

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