• Richard James

The Past Brought To Life

If you're on Twitter and have any interest in history, particularly Victorian and Edwardian history, you really should be following @janeyellene, aka 'History Girl'. She posts such evocative photographs and film clips from the era, that I often expect to see one of the characters from my Bowman Of The Yard series staring back at me. Is that Robert Tompkins taking his chances in front of a rather handsome carriage on The Strand? Is George Bowman himself among the crowd beneath Holborn Viaduct?

One of my recent favourites would have to be this picture of several members of the London constabulary helping to pull a dinosaur from a lake at Crystal Palace for a spring clean in 1927. She notes, 'The dinosaur section of the park was constructed in 1853-1855 by sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, Queen Victoria was fascinated by them & was a frequent visitor. They can still be seen today.'

1927 is a little late for my Bowman series (although who knows what the future holds? Bowman would be an old man by then, but perhaps still active) but, often, there are images which are absolutely spot on. A few weeks ago, I noticed this one.

'Crispin Street looking towards Spitalfields Market, London. Around 1900, photographer Horace Warner captured over two hundred startling images of children living in a rundown slum area of East London. He called them the ‘Spitalfields Nippers’.'

If you've read any of my Bowman novels or short stories, you will know that the East End is a place of special significance in Inspector Bowman's story. Indeed, The Horn Of Plenty, the pub featured above, is situated just a brisk six minute walk from Hanbury Street where Bowman's wife meets her rather grisly end before the series begins. I love the way the children in the centre seem to be jostling for the best position in the photograph while others seem caught unawares. In the meantime, London life goes on all around them. I've found children to be useful narrative devices in my books, from Robert Tompkins who accompanies Bowman in the Hampstead Garrotting and then assists Sergeant Graves in The Phantom In The Fog, to the many urchins employed as thieves and snitches by the villains of the piece. As I turn my thoughts to the prequel series of Bowman novels (set ten years before the current '1892' series), I have a feeling I might make use of the Spitalfields Nippers...

If you have yet to join the investigation, Bowman's story begins with the first novel, The Head In the Ice and continues through three more novels, The Devil In The Dock, The Body In The Trees and The Phantom In The Fog. A series of eight short stories that take place between the books have been collected into two volumes, City Of Death and City Of Fear, meaning every month of 1892 is chronicled.

For a taster, subscribe to my newsletter to receive the first two short stories, The Smithfield Murder and The Hackney Poisoning, for FREE!

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