Morecambe Winter Gardens – a labour of love

WG IMG_0595I’ve just been on a guided tour of Morecambe Winter Gardens. Its not the first time I’ve visited, but it is more than five years since my last visit. Morecambe Winter Gardens was a place of music hall entertainment, with a grand ballroom next door, and was designed to give holidaymakers a taste of luxury away from their lives at home. Many of the visitors were on day excursions from the industrial towns of Leeds or Bradford, and would be looking for place to eat, drink, be entertained – all without going outside on a wet day. The Winter Gardens provided an indoor place to promenade, and a ballroom next door for dancing.

Once with a rolling programme of all day entertainment – ballet, mime, comedy, pierrots, song and dance –  the stage is mostly empty now apart from the odd ghost hunt or music event.

Stephen, our guide, took us up near the roof to see the iron girders supporting the elaborate ceiling. The infrastructure is built like a railway station with massive ironwork suspending moulded plasterwork. Unused since the 1970s the building fell into disrepair and has since been looked after, and restored, by a small team of volunteers. The task is enormous. The walls have been damp and crumbling, the roof unsafe. The volunteers have painstakingly removed hundreds of nails from the original parquet floor and replaced the missing pieces with appropriate period wood. They are now restoring parts of the granWG IMG_0593d circle.  Stephen freely admits that the task of restoring this building will take generations, and that they are looking to the future one step at a time.

It is such a shame that our seaside heritage doesn’t attract the sort of funding that would allow the refurbishment to progress faster, and before more crucial infrastructure is lost. During Covid people have been flocking to our seaside towns again and it is a shame when an iconic building like the Winter Gardens can’t be shown off in all its original glory. Of course it is interesting to speculate what the building could be used for, now that the thousands it could accommodate prefer to holiday elsewhere.

But a building so spectacular could be used for many different things – retail, food hall,  marketplace. Personally I would love to see it as a museum or exhibition of the seaside life as we used to know it. There is a tendency to ignore the art of the seaside funfair, circus, arcades and other pier-head attractions, which are a vital and interesting part of our history, with their own particular visual language.

For the volunteers who are bringing this building back to life, it is a real labour of love. They give up their weekends to show visitors around, when they are not painting, plastering or cleaning. They are raising money to put the seats back in the Grand Circle, one seat at a time. You can find all the information you need about how to support their work and their ongoing labour of love on their website  Do book a tour too, its fascinating and gives a real window into seaside culture in its 1930s heyday. Tea and cake can be had in the foyer.

The pictures below show the spectacular Burmantoft tiles in the entrance to the Grand Circle and in the foyer, and the outside of the building with its magnificent arched window overlooking what must be one of the most spectacular views of the bay and the Lake District hills.

WG IMG_0599 WG IMG_0598 WG IMG_0602


My cold weather reading: ‘After the Fire’ and ‘Those Who Know’

Pilk 51p9eUIXJ9LHere in the North West, we’ve had a sudden change of the weather from tropical to arctic, meaning my lockdown walks have been replaced by staying inside with a good book. Now my most recent novel is done, I’ve been able to let go of research reading, and read for my own pleasure.

My latest novel, Entertaining Mr Pepys, was set in the world of the 17th Century theatre, and whilst writing it I would never have read this book, ‘After the Fire’ , because it is set in a similar time and place, and I’d fear some of John Pilkington’s  world seeping into mine. But now my final Pepys book is out and done with, I can indulge my passion for all things 17th Century.

After the Fire by John Pilkington is a murder mystery that introduces us the the character of actress Betsy Brand, and she is a great character to root for. Impetuous yet astute, she is not afraid to enter the worst rookeries of Restoration London, or to confront danger when it arises. She is ably assisted by her doctor friend, Tom Catlin, who refers to her as ‘Mistress Rummager,’ and though sceptical initially about her sleuthing abilities, is able to make sense of the deaths, and throw light on what kind of poison might be employed. Their relationship is interesting, as she is the dominant character despite her lower status.

The plot hinges on events that happened during the Great Fire of London (hence the title), and just when you think the evil perpetrator has had his come-uppance, we find he is in fact part of a bigger conspiracy. The book is extremely well-researched with a wealth of historical detail. What better place for a murder to happen then during Shakespeare’s most notorious and murder-strewn play, Macbeth? This is rollicking good fun, and will appeal to both fans of historical fiction and mystery lovers.

After the Fire

Blurb: Before Jack the Ripper, there was the Salamander.
London, 1670. The Great Fire is all burned out. Now the city lies in ruins and a series of chilling murders is playing out on the London stage.
Betsy Brand is an actress performing in Macbeth at the new Dorset Gardens Theatre. Every night she watches Joseph Rigg, the company’s most dazzling talent, in the throes of death as Banquo. Until one night he stops playing.

Betsy watches in horror as Rigg collapses mid-performance, poisoned. London’s theatre world turns upside down as more deaths follow. The authorities are baffled. But Betsy is determined to get to the bottom of it all, even if it means solving the case herself.

Betsy hears rumours that a shadowy figure called the Salamander has returned. He had haunted London during the Great Fire and now he is wreaking revenge on his enemies. But her foe is more cunning than Macbeth himself. And time is running out. Can she unmask the killer before she becomes his next victim?

Alis 41ACoLB0rzLThose Who Know by Alis Hawkins

The other novel I have enjoyed this week is the third of a series, and I loved the other two, so couldn’t wait for this one to come out. I’ve been following the adventures of Harry Probert-Lloyd and his able assistant John Davies, and they are always a delight. Partly it is the two men’s voices – the posh self-deprecating Harry versus the much more down-to-earth wit of John, who is always trying to save Harry from himself.

Harry is partially-sighted, so John acts as his eyes. At the same time Harry acts as a kind of benefactor to John, who has ambitions to be a solicitor, but was born much lower in the pecking order.

After a school teacher falls out of his loft there is suspicion of foul play, and Harry is left to contemplate the verdict. Of course there are many who might have wanted to do the deed, and it all takes some unravelling. A man is convicted, but Harry is not convinced they have the right man. Adding to the difficulty is the forthcoming election for Coroner, where Mr Minnever the local Liberal wants Harry to canvas more actively to retain his post, thus involving him in politics which he could well do without. Naturally it is critical Harry should win the vote for re-election, not least so that John can remain in post, but his need to try to gain votes is constantly crashing up against what he needs to do to see justice done. There is also the complication of two women, Miss Gwatkyn the local lady of the manor, and Lydia Howell, recently employed as secretary to Harry, both of whom refuse to remain in the subservient roles Harry expects, not to mention the local doctor who is keen on dissecting any corpse that might come his way, to the horror of Victorian polite society.

This was a great book, and one that lived up to the previous two and more. Complex and interesting, with a well-drawn sense of time and place, and characters you can really get to know. I heartily recommend.

Those Who Know


Harry Probert-Lloyd has inherited the estate of Glanteifi and appointed his assistant John as under-steward. But his true vocation, to be coroner, is under threat. Against his natural instincts, Harry must campaign if he is to be voted as coroner permanently by the local people and politicking is not his strength.
On the hustings, Harry and John are called to examine the body of Nicholas Rowland, a radical and pioneering schoolteacher whose death may not be the accident it first appeared. What was Rowland’s real relationship with his eccentric patron, Miss Gwatkyn? And why does Harry’s rival for the post of coroner deny knowing him? Harry’s determination to uncover the truth threatens to undermine both his campaign and his future.


Shopping with Elisabeth Pepys in Restoration London


Royal Exchange 1569Through the diary of Samuel Pepys, we get a remarkable insight into the City of London in the seventeenth century. Here, amongst Samuel Pepys’ political exploits, and his reports of the Navy, the King and the Court, we can also get a picture of where and how his wife Elisabeth shopped at the time.

Elisabeth loved clothes and fashion, and both she and her husband aspired to move upwards in society. The Restoration was a fabulous time for fashion as people reacted against Cromwell’s Puritan repression with lace, bows, frilled petticoat breeches, and yards of flowing ribbon, even for men.

In 1661 the diarist John Evelyn commented on one young man had ‘as much Ribbon on him as would have plundered six shops, and set up Twenty Country Pedlars; all his body was dres’t like a May-pole’.

Elisabeth often shopped at Unthank’s the tailors, a large shop in Charing Cross, where she was measured for her gowns, and would choose fabric and cloth. Unlike shoemakers and bootmakers, whose leather work could be done on stalls in the open air, tailors usually worked indoors out of the weather. ByV & A Ribbon Gloves the end of the 17th century more exotic and valuable fabrics from abroad such as East Indian chintz became popular.

Sometimes more expensive fabric, such as chintz or silk, was supplied by the client, leading to tailors being seen as cheaters, because the client suspected they skimped when making up the fabric and used the left-overs to make smaller garments they would then sell on. Many pamphlets of the time describe tailors in this rather unflattering way.

A range of accessories that were both decorative and practical were available. Decorative muffs acted as a place to store handkerchiefs, purses and perfumes. Hoods, both attached to, and unattached to cloaks were popular too, with some shops only selling hoods. Opposite – ribbon-trimmed gloves from the V&A.

In the diary, arguments between Samuel and Elisabeth were frequent, especially over money.  For example after the Duke of Gloucester died and everyone was in mourning, Elisabeth overspent the fifteen pounds she’d been given for her mourning costume, and Pepys says ‘after I had looked over the things my wife had bought today…they costing too much, I went to bed in a discontent.’

Elisabeth would have taken her coins and tokens (coins were in short supply during Charles II’s reign) and go to the Royal Exchange, which before the great fire was the great centre of commerce in the city. The coins illustrated read:  ‘Coffee Tobacco Sherbet tea and Chocolat retail’d in Exchange Ally’. The Exchange was officially opened in 1565 by Queen Elizabeth I, who awarded the building its Royal title. It had a central courtyard surrounded by more than 160 galleried shops. Some of these were little bigger than booths, and were so poky and gloomy that they had to be lit by candles, even in the daytime. The covered walks were decorated with statues of English kings.

London Bridge by Claude de Jongh
London Bridge by Claude de Jongh

Unfortunately, the Royal Exchange was destroyed in the Great Fire and had to be rebuilt. A statue of Gresham, who founded the Exchange, stood near the north end of the western piazza. After the Fire of 1666 this statue alone remained unharmed, according to Pepys’ records. Unlike today, only shopping, or the exchange of goods took place. Stockbrokers were not allowed into the Royal Exchange because of their loudness and rude manners, so they had to meet at Jonathan’s Coffee-House which was nearby.




Another street that was for fashionable ladies was Paternoster Row, which according to Stow in his book about London, ‘their shops were so resorted to by the nobility and gentry in their coaches, that oft-times the street was so stop’d up that there was no passage for foot passengers.’

Elisabeth also shopped for small linens in Westminster Hall, where it appears you were allowed to run up a bill on account. Mrs Mitchell and Betty Lane both had stalls there, where Samuel Pepys dallied with more than just lace and linen. Westminster Hall was a magnificent arched and lofty building, part of the Palace of Westminster, and some people were disgusted it should be used for trade. But it appears that chapels and palaces were all a part of Elisabeth Pepys’s shopping experience in the hedonistic era of the Restoration.

Pictures: The Ropleasing mr pepysyal Exchange, wikipedia

Leather Tokens: London Museum via the Guardian

My book featuring Elizabeth Pepys is out now.

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Publication Day for Pleasing Mr Pepys – Read an extract!

pleasing mr pepysPublication Day Pleasing Mr Pepys

I’m delighted to announce that Pleasing Mr Pepys is out today with Accent Press. In years gone by, when there were far less books produced, and all of them physical copies, publishing a book was a much more unique and celebrated event. Now there are thousands of e-books released every day and we have a new information age which is transforming the way we find and digest information.

But the beauty of books is that, like people, each one is unique. There is no other book that re-imagines the story of the events in Pepys’ famous diary from the point of view of Deb Willet, the maid he fell in love with. My portrayal of her is different from the Radio and TV interpretations which lost sight of the fact that she was very well-educated. I have given her a vibrant life which takes place both within the confines of the diary and within my imagination – a life that involves espionage, double-dealing, and treason.

I started the novel in 2013, so it is a joy to finally hold a copy in my hands.

The book has three women from Pepys’s diary as major point of view characters – Deb the maidservant, Elisabeth Pepys (wife of the famous diarist) and Abigail Williams, an actress who is mistress to Lord Bruncker and despised by Elisabeth. Here’s the first chapter to give you a flavour of Abigail.


Pleasing Mr Pepys

Chapter 1

September 1667

A metallic rattle – the key in the lock. Abigail Williams stiffened her spine as the draught from the downstairs door and the stink of the Fleet River blew round her ankles. Harrington closed the door and she heard him scratch the flint to light the wall sconces. Lighting up time already. It had been daylight when she had broken into his house. With one hand, she held her skirts closer to her thighs; with the other, she gripped the flat-bladed knife – a small weapon, but the edge sharpened razor-thin. She pressed back against the wall behind the door as the light from the hall flickered across her kidskin shoes.

Harrington’s footsteps lumbered up the stairs, his breathing laboured. She tightened her hold on the knife, preparing herself. These breaths would be his last. She found death harder to bear than she used to, now she had seen so much suffering – the plague years, the fire. Oddly, Harrington paused on the threshold of the room, as if he could sense her waiting presence. Through the crack of the open door she saw him standing motionless, his steeple hat a silhouette in the wavering light, his head cocked, listening.

He was an old hand, like her. She repressed a flash of compassion, the foolish urge to call out, to warn him. But then his dark back came through the door and he stepped in front of her, and without even thinking she moved like quicksilver. The knife slid easily across the side of his neck. With the other hand she pushed as hard as she could. He tried to turn, but it was too late, he was already falling, clutching his collar, blood slippery over his hands, hat rolling away under the table.

Experience told Abigail it had been enough. She ran, hoisting up her skirts, down the stairs, flinging the front door open, out into the cramped back alley. Nobody followed her; the passage to Fleet Street was empty. A brownish fog wreathed around her hem. When she finally slowed, she took a rag from inside her sleeve and wiped her blade, wrapped it, and stowed it in the pocket hanging next to her petticoats. She put a hand up to the bare skin at her chest, feeling the hot rise and fall of her collarbone.

She emerged onto the main thoroughfare where the houses were lit with torches, and walked, heart thudding, down towards the King’s playhouse. Arriving at the theatre, she saw Lord Bruncker’s carriage was where he had left it, across the road. His coachman was leaning against the wall, a smoking pipe in his mouth, waiting. She didn’t want to go in the front way – someone might ask why she was late – so instead she made for the tiring house behind.

The stage doorman knew her and nodded to her as she entered. The dressing room was empty, the actors ready to enter by the shutters for act two. From there, the audience sounded like the sea, the swell of all those voices. She checked her face and the satin of her dress for stains: a few dark spots on her sleeve, easily explained away.

Only now did she begin to shake. It was always like this: afterwards the weakness, nausea and trembling would set in. The moment when she wished she could turn back the day, the moment when she remembered their eyes, hollow with their unspoken question. Why?

Legs as unsteady as a newborn calf, she paused, leaned heavily on the trestle table, took out a phial of camphor from her pocket and inhaled. Better.

She arranged her face into a smile. Her performance for Lord Bruncker was about to begin. Her petticoat rustled against the boards as she went along the corridor and up the stairs into the box. On the way she almost bumped into Mr Pepys hurrying up the same stairs with a supply of nuts and oranges.

‘For Elisabeth,’ he said, obviously feeling the need to apologise for the sheer number of squashed bags hugged to his chest.

She nodded and stood aside, lowering her eyes to avoid his conversation. He could talk the baggage off a donkey. To her relief, he squeezed past and hurried into his own box further along the row.

When she got to her own, the candelabra had been lit, and upon her arrival Lord Bruncker drew out the chair so that she could sit.

‘Ah, there you are,’ he whispered. ‘You’re late. You missed the first act.’

She shook her head. ‘The traffic through town—’

‘Hush, they’re about to start again. Have a confit.’

She reached out her hand and smiled, took a marchpane cherry, but dropped it under her seat as soon as Lord Bruncker turned back to look at the stage. She was glad his attention was diverted, so he did not notice her pallid face or that she could not swallow.

The actor who had just entered rapped three times for silence, his face ghoulish from the footlights, which smoked in their holders. The hubbub fell to a hush. But Abigail’s thoughts would not lie quiet; she was thinking of Harrington, of how long it would be before they found him.

He should have listened to Piet. Then his mouth wouldn’t have had to be shut the hard way. She’d liked him, but in her business, liking was a luxury she was ill able to afford.



You can buy the book here on Amazon in the UK or in the US , Waterstones, Guardian Bookshop or your local bookseller.

Deb Willet, Elizabeth Pepys’s maid and the object of Samuel Pepys’s attentions, is finally given centre-stage after 350 years, and her tale was worth waiting for. This is exceptional story-telling. L. C. Tyler author of the Historical John Grey Mysteries

Laced with emotional intensity and drama. Reader’s Favorite

The first chapter will suck you right in immediately; there is drama and intensity…before you even know who these characters are! I was hooked!  The Maiden’s Court Blog


Historical Fiction – recent excellent reads #GreatBook

My recent reading. Historical Fiction recommendations.

As you know, I read widely, and here are some books which are definitely worth your time. All are beautifully written. Click the title for the UK buy link.

The Anchoress

This is a contemplative book aimed at young adults. Its powers lie in the description of life as a nun, locked in a hermitage behind four walls, with only the nesting birds for company. This is a book that’s big on small detail, and evokes the medieval period through what is absent rather than what is present. We spend much of the novel inside Sarah’s head, along with her fears of heaven and hell, God and the Devil, sexuality and chastity.

(Bought this from the revolving book stand in Booths Supermarket – much more tempting than the fruit & veg stall)

Olive Kitteridge

Not strictly speaking a historical novel, though it has an old-fashioned aura about it, and covers 25 years of a marriage. Set in Maine, this tells of the small triumphs and disasters of the relationships in a small town in a series of linked vignettes. Each is a separate mini-story, with its own heart, and its own ending. Put together it creates a portrait of Olive Kitteridge – an ordinary woman in a small town – and does it with extraordinary insight and perceptiveness. If you’re curious as to what makes A Pullitzer Prize winner, then here’s your answer!

(Was lent this by a friend who thought I’d like it – I did!)


A rip-roaring historical crime thriller in which a killer is on the loose in plague-beset London. Not for the faint-hearted, this includes plenty of gore, gruesome descriptions of the plague, and an edge of your seat plot. The pace is relentless and our two heroes – Coke and Pitman must unmask the murderer before he strikes again, risking, of course, death at the hands of the butcher in the process.

(After being on a panel with the author, I ordered this from Amazon)

The Heart of the Night

Epic WW2 fiction spanning counties and continents. At heart a love story between two couples, but also a story of the enduring friendhip of two women. This is not an easy book to condense into a sentence or two, but it covers the fate of Russians in WW2, the occupation of Paris, and the fate of soldiers at the front. Tender and realistic, the writing is seamless and flowing, and the 500+ pages seem to fly by.

(picked this up from a charity bookstall in aid of our local village hall – cost me 50p and worth a lot more for its entertainment value)

None So Blind

A great historical mystery set in Wales in the Victorian era. This is a crime novel with a difference – with an unusual detective , a barrister who is losing his sight, and his sidekick who is a down-to-earth clerk of a very different class. The two both need each other and irritate each other in ways which are believable and feel real. Add to this an unusual case centred around the Rebecca Riots of the 1840’s & 50’s, and you have a dark mystery that’s well worth a read.

(Alis Hawkins, the author, was first published by Macmillan New Writing, as was I, and we’ve stayed in touch. She sent me this as an ARC before it had a publisher – now I’ve got the real thing as a paperback via my local bookshop)

I Stopped Time

Haunting portrait of the Edwardian era told through the idea of the ‘new’ art of photography. Set in Brighton and London, pioneer photgrapher Lottie Pye must apologize on her deathbed to her son James (who thinks she has abandoned him as a child) and explain the story that led her to lead her life without him. When James inherits her photographs they explain to him more than anything else what she felt for him. Fabulous characters, lovely detail, and an engaging plot.

(Read this as an ebook after taking part in a promotion where this author was featured. I like the Edwardians, so thought I’d give it a try, and I wasn’t disappointed. )

Do give some of these books a try.


Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue – The Life of the Earl of Rochester #Stuart

Hat & Flower smallI’m delighted to welcome Susan Cooper-Bridgewater to my blog today to talk about her novel about John Wilmot the second Earl of Rochester – one of the rakes and rogues of Restoration London that I am fascinated by, and wrote about here. Welcome Sue!

 John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester is known for his satirical verses and his wit, how did you get that across in your narrative?

Rochester was certainly famous for his infamous wit, verbal, poetical and satirical, even calling himself ‘The Wildest and Most Fantastical Odd Man Alive’. So writing in the first person so as to represent Rochester’s persona was, in essence, either a brave act or a moment of madness on my part, not to say a risky undertaking for any author to attempt, but scripting the story in this way seemed natural to me from page one. Nevertheless, I had to remind myself frequently to adhere to the era of the 17th century, and hopefully not let slip any 21st century terms which would irk a reader.

After researching the man for many years and with my Notes and Queries article on him back in 2011, three years prior to the writing of ‘Ink’, I felt that I had come to know his character to a certain degree. However, Rochester was, and I believe always will be, a mystifying individual. Many a scholar has tried to fathom him, and although at times you think you know him well; at others he quickly challenges your perceptions.

So, with imagination, I trust that I have given the reader a fair comprehension of this charismatic character, whether he be good or bad and more often than not he was the latter. I intermittently portray him in a more realistic role, as a loving husband, father, and ardent lover, and not just as ‘Rochester the celebrated reprobate’.

Ink wit IntrigueI included certain of his poems to show his prowess as the most brilliant, witty wordsmith. And throughout the story I adopted my own imagined Rochester retorts such as; in the rat incident – ‘Yes my dearest, it’s dead. It has a large gap between its arse and its head.’; in the fantastical Dr. Alexander Bendo affair – ‘As she and her companion entered the crowded street, I smirked. If Loveall could not oblige his wife, then I could all too readily offer my services.’; in his arguments with his mistress, Mrs. Elizabeth Barry – ‘Well there speaks a lady of breeding.’ I said to Beth, ‘If you wish for the finer things in life, then I suggest you whore yourself to His Majesty.’; after a bout of illness he replies to the King – ‘As long as the frailty of my body is surpassed by the sharpness of my wit, so as to divert you and your Court, what more could a man in the throes of death wish but to thus entertain His Gracious Majesty?’ Bowing gracefully, I then added, ‘To be the bringer of pleasure and jollity to the most deserving of enthroned Monarchs is all I could desire.’; To George Etheredge – ‘Best, George? I have long been the best, but now my feeble body is resorting to the worst. Let us not dwell on that damnation,…’ ; after a wager to covertly sleep with a Landlord’s two young daughters – ‘I shall be down shortly, gentlemen.’ I said quietly, and whispered to the one, ‘So have ready the fruits of our wager that you owe, only doubled if you please, sir.’

Apart from taking on the language of the century, you made this a diary. What attracted you to writing this book in diary format?

Well, someone once remarked that ‘Ink ‘seemed to them a cross between The Diary of Samuel Pepys and The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I wasn’t sure whether I should take that as a compliment or not! Strangely, that was quite perceptive as I did read Pepys many years ago. Whether or not that influenced me to write the book in that way, I honestly could not say. As a researcher your head is full of dates, with mine usually beginning with 16. I expect with the book being a cradle to the grave story, and beyond, supposedly written by Rochester himself, it was inevitable that it would take the guise partly as a journal.

What were your favourite research books and did you use any real objects or artefacts in your research?

For my research on Rochester, which commenced in 2006, I read many books then in print; ‘Lord Rochester’s Monkey’ by Graham Greene; ‘So Idle a Rogue: The Life and Death of Lord Rochester’ by Jeremy Lamb; ‘The Works of John Earl of Rochester: Containing Poems, on Several Occasions’ printed for Jacob Tonson, 1714;  ‘Enthusiast in Wit’ by Vivian de Sola Pinto and ‘John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, Selected Works’, Penguin Classics, and various online out of print material. But my main source of study came from reading the brilliant, and in my opinion the definitive biography of Lord Rochester, ‘A Profane Wit’ by James William Johnson, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Rochester, NY. To compete with such an expert as Johnson in non-fiction would be a tough call, hence my decision to write a historical faction on the subject, as comprehensive novels on Rochester are a rarity.

As for real objects or artefacts, these took the form of visiting many places in the Cotswolds, where Rochester was born and lived a great deal of his life. These included; Ditchley, the place of his birth; the Old Grammar School at Burford, the scene of his early education; Adderbury House and village, where he lived with his wife and family, when not cavorting elsewhere; and High Lodge, in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, where he held the office of Ranger for many years, and where sadly was the place of his demise aged 33, which historic event was famously recorded in Gilbert Burnet’s ‘Some passages of the life and death of the right honourable John, Earl of Rochester who died the 26th of July, 1680’. And last but not least the idyllic Cotswold village of Spelsbury, and its wonderful church, the scene of Rochester’s poignant burial.

Spelsbury Church
Spelsbury Church

It’s a massive undertaking. Does Rochester change through your narrative, which spans most of his life, and if so, how?

I am pleased you asked this question. The book does in fact span all of his life, beginning with his birth and ending with his death. With this in mind, I was able to portray the innocent young boy developing into a perceptive youth with a growing awareness of the changes that surrounded him as a boy, such as; his days at Burford when, at the age of 11, he inherited the title of Earl of Rochester in 1658 following his father’s death; His time at Oxford and then on The Grand Tour as a young, impressionable teenager. The narrative for these times is written as a light hearted, happy and courteous Rochester, with hints of a loveable, mischievous rogue showing their signs. But as the shackles of domesticity, illicit liaisons, love of the God Bacchus and the Earl’s insufferable declining health, cast a shadow upon this once promising youth, the narrative grows ever more disturbing to those closest to him and this is reflected in his insincere, capricious comments and amusing but disturbing poems.

But for the reader’s sake, so as not to end in utter despair, there is an Epilogue where one enters a chapter full of twists and turns and mystification.

Thanks for this insight into what was obviously a labour of love. Your obvious enthusiasm for his life and works really shines through, Sue.

Of Ink Wit and Intrigue is published by Troubadour. 17th century fans who want to know more can find out more here



Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Recommended Research – Eyewitness books on the Stuart Period

Just found this great little hardback book whilst browsing Carnforth Bookshop (which has more than 10,000 second hand books!). Also in this series by A F Scott are titles ‘The Plantagenet Age’, ‘The Tudor Age’ and ‘The Georgian Age.’ Compiled as a series of quotations, each book contains observations about every part of the lifestyle and social concerns of the era, drawn from eyewitness accounts.


Here’s a flavour from Thomas Dekker’s description of London in 1606;

‘In every street carts and coaches make such a thundering as if the world ran on wheels. At every corner men, women and children meet in such shoals, that posts are set up on purpose to strengthen the houses, lest with jostling one another they should shoulder them down. Besides, hammers are beating in one place, tubs hooping in another, pots clanking in a third, water tankards running at tilt in a fourth. Here are porters sweating under burdens, there merchants’ men bearing bags of money. Chapmen (as if they were at leap-frog) skip out of one shop into another. Tradesmen (as if they were dancing galliards) are lusty at legs and never stand still. All are as busy as country attorneys at an assizes.’

The Seven Deadly Sinnes of London

from The Stuart Age

Other books with eyewitness accounts I can recommend are:

Going to the Wars by Charles Carlton (English Civil Wars)

Voices from the World of Samuel Pepys – Jonathan Bastable (Restoration)

And talking of the Seven Deadly Sins, you might like my Seven Deadly Sins of Historical Fiction.

Blog Featured Seventeenth Century Life

The Last Roundhead – the power of the written word in the 17th century

The Seventeenth Century was highly literate and the printing press really was a contemporary information superhighway.

Jemahl Evans

I’m delighted to welcome Jemahl Evans as my guest today. Jemahl is a fellow enthusiast of the era of the English Civil Wars and its aftermath,  so I asked him what provoked his interest in this period. Here ‘s his reply:

Last Roundhead


The idea for The Last Roundhead came to me on a wet Friday afternoon in 2009. My Year 8 class (who were remarkably efficient in sidetracking me from my lesson plans to tell them historical anecdotes) were supposed to be finishing the English Civil War as a topic – Cromwell’s death and The Restoration. As we started the lesson outline and objectives, a young man (I shall call him Chuckles because, a, I cannot remember his real name, b, everyone called him Chuckles, and c, he really did chuckle a lot) put his hand up.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Is that it?’ asked Chuckles.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Is that it; what happened next? What about all the Roundheads and Cavaliers? The King comes back and they all party?’

‘Well,’ I said, and then stopped myself, realising that this was a work evasion tactic and just how big the question really was. But, it was last lesson on a Friday; it had been a long week.

How do you explain in a lesson the long shadow the Civil War cast, the Wars with France, the Glorious Revolution, the American colonies, the slave trade, pirates, The Enlightenment, theatre and literature, Isaac Newton, Whigs and Tories, the birth of modern Britain in 40 minutes flat?

Hiseland, the Last Cavalier

So, I told them the story of William Hiseland – the last cavalier. Hiseland had been born in 1620, fought for the King at Edgehill, and followed the colours for the next seventy years fighting under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709, became one of the first Chelsea Pensioners, and  married at the grand old age of 100, only dying in 1733. Look him up, he had an amazing life!

As my class filed out, Chuckles chuckling happily at the lack of work, I started thinking about the last roundheads. Hiseland had been feted as a loyal subject of the crown, but the men who fought under Cromwell faced a far more uncertain life after the restoration.

I didn’t start writing straight away; the idea sat and germinated as I gathered sources together and read a lot. The Seventeenth Century was an unexplored country for me historically. I hadn’t really studied it since my A levels a nearly thirty years ago, and the National Curriculum means it is rarely taught past Year 8 in schools. However, I had studied restoration satire as a minor in my first degree, and the poem Hudibras by Samuel Butler really became my focus. Butler had written the scathing indictment of puritans and roundheads centred about Sir Samuel Luke (Sir Marmaluke in the poem) Scoutmaster General to the Army under Essex and Governor of Newport Pagnell.

Samuel Luke   National Portrait Gallery London

The poem is incredibly biased and one sided, and particularly vindictive as Butler had worked for Luke during the first civil war (1642 – 46) after being dismissed from his previous employment under a cloud. So, The Last Roundhead became a response to Hudibras by one of the characters pilloried in it.

In 2010, I came home to Wales when my father died and my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Teaching part-time gave me a lot more time to start scribbling things down, and in the summer of 2013 I began writing seriously and trying to put a novel together. It takes the form of a Georgian Apologia by an unreliable, and irascible, narrator out to clear his rather sullied reputation. I peopled it, as far as possible, with real men and women from the time and used their words if I could. That gave me the opportunity to include individuals like Lucy Hay (the real Milady D’Winter who actually did purloin the Queen of France’s jewels), Margaret Cavendish, Jane Whorwood and Anne Crosse, all women who pushed at the boundaries of social norms, as well as the politicians and generals that always dominate our history.

The power of the written word during the period really influenced me, newsbooks, letters, journals, memoirs – people wrote about everything, all the time. I think in our modern world of the internet, TV, film, radio, pro sports etc, it is very easy to forget just how important poetry, the theatre and the bible were to ordinary people. The Seventeenth Century was highly literate and the printing press really was a contemporary information superhighway. It meant lots of literary references that would be natural to someone born in the period, and language style that mimics the period vernacular. There is some language that could be described as a bit fruity, but all of it comes from period letters and poems. When you quote Rochester that can happen!

The Last Roundhead was picked up by Holland House Books in 2014 and published in August 2015. It’s been well received, with good reviews in The Times and from the Historical Novel Society, and is available from Amazon and other retailers.

Read a Sample of the Book

Jemahl’s website

Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Lady Anne Clifford – travelling 17thC style, with 40 carts

You can’t live in the Westmorland area and not know anything about Lady Anne Clifford. In the 17th century she travelled William_Larkin_Anne_Clifford,_Countess_of_Dorset (2)around her vast Northern estates accompanied by more than forty carts which contained everything she needed to make herself comfortable at her great castles, which were in ill-repair. What she took with her included her large oak bed, and a pane of glass (very expensive in those days) for her bedroom window.

As well as restoring her ruined estates, from 1649 to 1662 she was a patron of the arts, including architecture, sculpture and painting. She also had a keen interest in books, including manuscript illumination and calligraphy. These were passions gained from her mother, Margaret Clifford, from whom she inherited not only her staunch Anglican faith, but also a love of literature and the classics. However, her early life was far from easy, as she spent much of her life in a long and complex battle to regain her inheritance.

George Clifford (after Hilliard)

She was born at Skipton Castle, the daughter of George Clifford, who had been a favourite at Queen Elizabeth’s court as a skilled jouster, and by now had been given extensive lands in the North, including no less than four castles. When Anne was only 15, her father died, and as her two brothers both died young, that left Anne as the only surviving heir.

Her father, fearing she was still too young to manage all his lands, left his entire estate and all his titles to his brother Francis Clifford, leaving Anne £15,000 in compensation. Anne was outraged, for she knew this to be in breach of a legal entail, one which stated that the Clifford lands were to be left to the eldest heir, whether male or female. This law dated back to the time of King Edward II. The lands included Skipton, Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham Castles.

Brough Castle – owned by the Cliffords. Now a ruin, it was one of the castles she restored, now with English Heritage

But Anne was stubborn and determined. She began legal proceedings, and in 1607, the judges decided that the Skipton properties were rightfully Anne’s. Her uncle, however, was not prepared to give up without a fight, and refused to give up the estates.

Skipton Castle Yorkshire

Two years later Anne married Richard Sackville, the third earl of Dorset, who tried to take charge of her affairs. In 1617, despite the advice of her husband, and amid growing pressure from King James I himself, she refused to accept a settlement of the dispute. Hardly surprising, considering it proposed all the estates were to be given to Francis, her uncle, and his male heirs, and only £17,000 was to be given in compensation to Anne. Nevertheless, the settlement went through, and to Anne’s frustration, her husband quickly took control of the money.

Anne had to wait for the death of her cousin in 1643, before finally getting back her inheritance, but there is a happy ending to this tale. After the English Civil Wars had ended, Anne moved back to the North. An old woman by now, she spent the next 26 years of her life lovingly restoring her ruined family castles along with the churches on her lands.

Lady Anne Clifford died in 1676 at Brougham Castle, in her family home. Read more about her in her own diary, surprisingly available on kindle a mere three hundred and fifty years later. Told in a sparse matter-of-fact way, it details the comings and goings of this remarkable woman, who was never in one place for long, and seemed to have inexhaustible reserves of energy.

Appleby Castle
Appleby Castle, one of Lady Anne Clifford’s estates
Almshouses built for poor widows by Lady Anne Clifford, in Appleby




The Prodigal Son – Anna Belfrage


In retrospect, I suspect my subconscious had been doing its own little things for years before I finally sat down to write The Graham Saga. Since well over a decade, I had nursed an interest for the 17th century, and in particular for the religious conflicts that dominated this period in history. Why, you might ask, and the reason for that is quite personal.

My husband comes from a family old as the rocks (most of us do; it’s just that the majority of us spring from families that were illiterate and dirt poor, ergo leaving nary a trace in the historical documents) that emigrated from Scotland to Sweden in the early 17th century. In actual fact, the only ones that emigrated were a twelve year old boy called John, and his mother Joneta. This woman with her most unusual name was of Stuart blood – albeit a cadet line – but for whatever reason she was compelled to flee Scotland, citing religious persecution as her reason.

While subsequent research has never succeeded in establishing just how Joneta was being persecuted, it is undisputable that the 17th century was extremely turbulent from a religious perspective. The Reformation movements of the 16th century spilled over into the new century, and with the Protestant view that man was fully capable of reading the Bible and understanding it all on his own, the door was opened wide on multiple orientations. In Scotland, the formidable Scottish Kirk, originally headed by John Knox, proclaimed a “tough-love” version of Christianity, while in England the Anglican Church was more moderate.

As we all know, the religious divides in England would develop into a political schism that would explode into a Civil War. Of course Scotland was affected by this as well – Charles I was king of Scotland just as much as England – and people didn’t know what leg to stand on; become a Covenanter and support the Scottish Kirk, or remain a loyal subject of the king? Maybe this is what Joneta fled from, and even if she did make it over the North Sea to build a new life for herself and her son, the price was high; she was never to see her husband again.

The third book in The Graham Saga, The Prodigal Son, is set in the years just after the restoration of Charles II (and yes, it can be read as a stand-alone).  The reality Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex, experience is a consequence of the religious upheaval in the preceding decades. Charles II came to the throne with the intent of staying on it – and while he showed commendable clemency on most matters, he came down like a ton of bricks on the men who had signed the order of execution for Charles I and on anyone arguing religious matters fell outside the king’s control. This included those stubborn, loud-mouthed Scottish ministers and their refusal to kowtow to their king as overlord of their Kirk.

For men raised on the National Covenant, for men who had fought for their right to pray and believe as was taught by their Kirk, it was impossible to meekly abjure their faith. Instead, the congregations followed their ministers out on the moor to listen to the word of God as they considered it should be preached (a lot of brimstone and fire, no mealy-mouthed references to gambolling lambs in green pastures, not in a land defined by its core of harsh granite – both in its mountains and in its people). A deadly cat-and-mouse game followed, with the soldiers of the king chasing ministers and followers over the moors, while said ministers (and followers) did their best to evade them. Men were fined, they were flogged, and many of them were deported, some were executed in creative ways (such as being tied to a stake while the tide was out and left to drown when the tide came back in…) Still these stubborn Scots clung to their Kirk, still they refused to accept the hegemony of the king.

“Idiots,” Alex Graham mutters when she reads this. (For Alex all this religious stuff is totally incomprehensible. Well, it would be, seeing as she was born in 1976… Being yanked out of her time and propelled three centuries backwards comes with serious complications.)

“How idiots?” Matthew looms over his wife. He looks quite intimidating, but Alex seems unperturbed.

“You’re risking everything. What if…” She breaks off and turns her back on her husband. “One day your luck will run out, Matthew Graham, and then what?”

“I go canny, lass. But you can’t expect me to sit on my hands when…”

Alex wheels. “Why not? Why can’t you just stay out of it?” Her hands whiten as she tightens her hold on her skirts and her eyes are uncommonly dark in her pale face.

“I can’t. These are my brothers, Alex, these are my ministers. Of course I must help.”

“And risk your life – our lives.”

“It won’t come to that,” he tries, placing his big hands on her shoulders.

“How do you know?” Her voice wobbles. “How can you stand here and tell me things will be okay when both of us know that sometimes they go very, very wrong?”


Alex holds up her hand and backs away. “I don’t want to hear, okay?” She stumbles off. I think she’s crying, but knowing Alex, she wouldn’t like me to go after her – at least not now. I throw Matthew a long look.

“She’s right, you know. Your involvement may come at a heavy price.”

He gnaws his lip. “I must follow my conscience.”

“And what about her?” I point at his wife, now halfway up the hill. “Who comes first, Matthew? Your wife and family, or your faith?”

“Both,” he tries.

I shake my head, “Ultimately you’ll have to choose. Don’t leave it too late, okay?”

“Too late?” His eyes are stuck on Alex.

“Too late,” I nod. “Some things lost can never be replaced.”

Matthew blanches and looks at me. “I have no choice,” he says hoarsely.

“Of course you do – all of us do.” I pat his arm. “Let’s just hope you make the right choice – for you and for her.” I’m talking to air. Matthew is bounding off in pursuit of his wife.

It is somewhat ironic that the two king(s) that succeeded in totally rubbing most of the Scottish Protestants up the wrong way were, in fact, Scots. Charles I and his son were Stuarts, a dynasty young on the English throne, old on the Scots, but they were quick to forget their old homeland when presented with the tantalising – and exceedingly richer – aspects of their new, southern kingdom. As we all know, pride comes before fall, and some years on the last Stuart king would lose his throne to a large extent due to the lack of support from the Lowland Scots. But those events, dear reader, are the matter for a future instalment in The Graham Saga.

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Find out more about Anna and the other books in the Graham saga –including the latest release  ‘A Newfound Land’ on her website: