Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Dr Grace Harwood Stewart Billings - Edwardian Lady Doctor

Dr Grace Billings, who makes a cameo appearance in the second Flora Maguire Mystery, Murder at Cleeve Abbey, was the first female doctor in Gloucestershire, opening her first surgery in Cheltenham in 1899.

Grace spent her early years in Bristol, but at fifteen, her family moved to Cheltenham, where her father, a chemist, ran the Co-operative Drug Stores in the High Street. Grace had nine siblings, four sisters and five brothers. 

Grace attended a new, progressive Public Day School for Girls at 3 Bays Hill Villas which opened in 1885 to provide “at a moderate cost, the best education procurable for the daughters of the Middle Classes” whose parents’ social status would “preclude their admission into the [Cheltenham] Ladies’ College.” 

Grace trained at the London School of Medicine for Women and the College of Medicine of Durham University in Newcastle-on-Tyne. She graduated with an MB and BSurg in 1898 and set up her practice in Cheltenham the following year. Her sister, Mary, was also a doctor who received her medical degree from London.

At this time there was considerable hostility to women studying medicine. The Saturday Review wrote in 1870 that “lady aspirants to medicine and surgery desire to rid themselves speedily and effectually of that modesty which nature planted in them”. Grace was only permitted to treat women and children at her surgery, which only changed during WW1.

Grace’s Marriage Announcement
“Great local interest was taken in the marriage, at Charlton Kings, on Saturday, of Mr. Frederick Billings, a builder, and Miss Grace Harwood Stewart, who possesses the double degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. One of her sisters, who were her bridesmaids, is also a lady doctor, and many other lady members of the medical profession were among the guests.”
(Gloucester Citizen, 31 July 1899)

In 1900, Grace and Frederick had a son, Frederick Stewart, and a daughter, Brenda ten years later.During WWI, Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals were set up in Cheltenham to receive sick and wounded soldiers from the battlefields. The medical officers were almost exclusively men, but Dr Billings became medical officer at St Martin’s Hospital set up in a Cheltenham Ladies’ College boarding house.

Dr Billings continued her practice in Cheltenham, retiring in 1936, widowed in 1937, but came out of retirement to work with St John Ambulance during WW2. Her daughter Brenda also became a GP in Cheltenham and then School Medical Officer for Gloucestershire County Council. Her son, Frederick Stewart, who enlisted in the navy at 14 in WWI, became a Rear Admiral and was awarded the CBE in 1953.

In 1949 Dr Billings moved to a house overlooking Pittville Park, a few hundred yards from her first practice fifty years earlier. She died in 1957.

“When she first came to the town there were already forty doctors there; she was the forty-first, and the first woman. She has related how she called on them all, as was the excellent custom of those days, and how she was received quite kindly, but, in some cases, obviously not seriously.” 
“For some time she was the only woman present at B.M.A. meetings. It needed some courage to go to the dinners after the meetings, when women were in the extreme minority, but this never seemed to worry Dr Grace. It was amusing to watch her light her after-dinner cigar in complete unconcern at the surprised glances of newly arrived doctors to the area.” 

Obituary, BMJ 13th July 1957

Monday, 26 September 2016

Petticoat Travellers - Early 20th Century Steamship Travel

While researching my first cosy mystery set on an ocean liner in 1900, I came across a fascinating, though tongue-in cheek article entitled,  ‘The Ethics of Ocean Travel’ written by journalist Earl Mayo for Era Magazine, in 1904, written at a time when Trans Atlantic steamship travel was becoming fashionable.

He gives an interesting and amusing portrait of ocean life, especially in respect of the innovation of women travelling to foreign countries.

‘The woman traveling abroad without male escort was so much a rare avis as to be a negligible quantity a generation ago, or even more recently. To be sure there were women who crossed the Atlantic on their own responsibility in the days of our mothers, or even in those of our grandmothers, but in the infrequent cases when this happened the chances were ninety-nine out of a hundred that she was to be joined at the moment of landing by a husband, brother, or some other relative.’

‘Now, however, all this is changed. We are living in the age and in the land of the new woman-not the freakish, faddish person designated by this title a few years ago, but the self-reliant, independent, resourceful woman whom we all know in greater or less numbers.'
‘....a peculiar illustration in the. case of one of the ships of the Atlantic Transport line, which carried fifty-eight women and one man! Needless to say that later on the man became engaged to and married one of his fair fellow·voyagers. What earthly chance does one poor, unprotected man stand among a shipload of women?’

Mayo calls these ladies 'petticoated travellers' and goes on to say the shipping line was known as 'the woman's line' , possibly, he says, 'because these ships carried only first·cabin passengers, ..... the officers have more time to devote to little attentions of courtesy and assistance which women especially appreciate.' or maybe he means - demand?

He also expresses some concern about the rules by which these women should conduct themselves while travelling alone. For instance, '....in a hotel dining room a gentleman would hardly presume, without previous acquaintance, to address a woman seated at the same table.'  Though he goes on to say  '.... it would be foolish to refrain from conversation with one's table neighbor in the saloon of an ocean liner where the same situation is to be repeated at every meal for seven or eight days.'

However he does have these ladies' reputations at heart in that: ‘Under no consideration will the woman traveling alone allow bon camaraderie to degenerate into even a mild form of flirtation. Shipboard flirtations are not for the unchaperoned.’ His reason being: ''The most gentlemanly passenger aboard may prove to be a professional gambler and the man of pious mien and clerical garb may have an unsavory reputation ashore.'

Apparently American ladies enjoyed a more lax attitude towards their independence and he feels it incumbent upon himself to explain that; '

Europeans in general have not been educated up to the idea of a woman's right to travel about alone and many American women abroad have been subjected to serious embarrassment from the inability of Europeans to appreciate or understand the freedom of movement which the women of the United States enjoy at home.' 

I get the impression Mayo meant well, but how many ladies found his advice insulting, patronising or downright presumptuous? 

The full article is here: Earl Mayo on the Ethics of Ocean Travel

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

SS Minneapolis

SS Minneapolis
The Minneapolis was the first of the four famous Minne class ships ordered by Bernard N. Baker in 1898. An Atlantic Transport Line brochure brochure issued in 1923 boasted, "no ship ever had a more devoted following than these," and in 1947 the Minnes were described by the New York Times as "probably the most popular single-class ships in Atlantic shipping history."
The Aft Deck where young Eddy played Pirates in the lifeboats

The Minneapolis cost $1,419,120 (£292,000) to build and had the largest registered tonnage of any ship afloat excepting the Oceanic when she was launched. Unusually, her maiden voyage began from New York and arrived on the Thames for the first time on May 1, 1900.

The Minne sisters were among the first ships to be fitted for wireless telegraphy and sailed under the command of Captain Thomas Gates with a compliment of first class only passengers. The ship was fitted out like a mini-Titanic with luxurious suites, an elegant dining room and library.

A Promenade Deck Suite

Report in The Illustrated London News of the SS Minneapolis shortly after her arrival at Tilbury on 1st May 1900.

....Everything on the Minneapolis is of the best quality, but as simple as possible. The walls of the saloon are in light oak with allegorical figures burnt in the woodwork; an exquisite frieze in the same work, full of life and spirit, runs round the top. The dome in the ceiling gives ventilation and height to the room. The chairs and sofas are upholstered in red satin damask, and the whole effect of the saloon is bright and cheery, while also harmonious.

Bunny's beloved 'Matilda'

Dining Salon

The coverings of the sofas and chairs are in a very beautifully designed tapestry, the whole idea of the room being to keep it quiet and restful. The smoking room is admirably adapted to the purpose for which it is intended. The decorations are in plain dark oak, and the seats upholstered in a very handsome red leather, all dinginess is thus avoided. Cozy corners are very suggestive of small parties sitting quietly together to have the friendly games which so materially assist in passing away the time.

No modern steamer would now be complete without suites of rooms, and the Minneapolis, being the most modern of steamers, has several suites situated on the promenade deck, which are as perfect as possible. The brass bedsteads are hung with fresh dimity curtains of pink roses on a white ground, the little window curtains all matching. Hanging cupboards and doors add to the convenience of the passengers. A bath-room is attached to each suite, and the private sitting room adjoining the bed room is charmingly fitted with a writing table and comfortable sofas.
Thomas F Gates

SS Minneapolis' Commander

An Englishman, Gates joined the Atlantic Transport Line when he was twenty and became second officer on the Suffolk in 1887. A sociable pipe-smoking teetotaler "who danced two hours every night of clear weather" according to Time.  He was known affectionately as "Tommy," or "Giggles Gates" — the "laughing skipper" because of his infectious laugh and popularity with passengers. One of the most popular commanders in the merchant fleet he became a US citizen, and his endless energy, his powerful voice, and that laugh were "known in ports all over the world" according to an obituary in the New York Times, and it was said that when his ship docked, he never needed a megaphone from the bridge.

Images from The Atlantic Transport Line Website
More here; The Atlantic Transport Line
GG Archives

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Fingerprinting in 1900

One of the fascinating aspects of researching an historical cosy mystery, is discovering when more modern accepted methods of detection were used in the past. In ancient Babylon, fingerprints were used as signatures on clay tablets for business transactions, but it wasn't until 1901 that fingerprints were considered a useful tool in the detection of crime.

In 1684, Dr. Nehemiah Grew wrote a Royal Society of London paper containing accurate drawings of finger ridge patterns, although it wasn't for another two hundred years that these idiocyncrasies of the human body were used for personal identification.

In 1858, when Sir William James Herschel, Chief Magistrate in Jungipoor, India, had a local businessman, impress his handprint on a contract, allegedly to discourage him from repudiating his signature. This worked so well, Herschel made a habit of requiring palm prints, then later  the prints of the right index and middle fingers. This led to the local superstition that personal contact with the document made the contract more binding than just signing it. Over time, Herschel learned that the inked impressions could prove or disprove identity.

Dr. Henry Faulds used printers ink to obtain fingerprints, and was credited with the first fingerprint identification of a greasy fingerprint left on an alcohol bottle. He passed his findings to Sir Charles Darwin in 1880, however Darwin was in poor health at the time and passed the information to his cousin, Francis Galton.

Sir Francis Galton, a British anthropologist, took up this use of fingerprints as a means of identification in 1888, publishing three books on the subject between 1892 and 1895. His main aim was to use fingerprints to determine heredity and racial background, but he soon confirmed what Herschel and Faulds already suspected: that fingerprints do not change over the course of an individual's lifetime, and that no two fingerprints are exactly the same. He calculated that the odds of two individual fingerprints being the same were 1 in 64 billion and some characteristics still in use today are sometimes referred to as Galton Details.

In 1901, a Fingerprint Branch was established at Scotland Yard by the Metropolitan Police.

In July 1902,  a burglary occurred in a house in Denmark Hill, London, and some billiard balls were stolen. An impression of a left thumbprint on a windowsill led to the conviction of a Harry Jackson - the first criminal trial in the UK where an individual was convicted based on fingerprint evidence.

Although Flora Maguire in Murder on the Minneapolis might be aware that fingerprinting was being studied, she also knew that no one had yet been convicted in a British court by a fingerprint - thus she and her detective friend will have to catch the killer another way.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Cover Reveal

Murder on the Minneapolis is the first of a series of five featuring my amateur sleuth Flora Maguire and is now available for pre-order here
The second in the series is Murder at Cleeve Abbey which is due for release in December. 


Books 3, 4 and 5 are scheduled for release in 2017

 I'm thrilled with the cover art, and give all credit to Caroline Ridding and Sarah Ritherdon 
at Head of Zeus Aria for all their hard work

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Killing Off Your Darlings

I have been quoted the phrase, 'You must kill off your darlings' over and over since I began writing, along with, ‘Put your heroine into a hole and throw rocks at her’ to create as much conflict as possible to keep your readers turning pages. Apparently almost every major 20th century author has been cited at one time or another as using this phrase or a variation of it. Stephen King put it well: “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

I appear to have interpreted the 'kill' one literally, but as I am writing cosy mysteries surely that’s forgivable? Someone has to be murdered in a mystery and making it two victims or more in extreme cases, gives the pace an often well needed boost.

A ‘darling’ isn’t necessarily your hero or heroine and they don’t have to die gurgling pool of blood on your page. In cosies that isn’t supposed to happen anyway as the actual murder takes place off stage and to a relatively unimportant character in whom the reader has invested no emotion at all. It’s the ‘whodunnit’ part which keeps them reading.

The phrase also means you have to get rid of your most precious and self-indulgent passages for the greater good of your literary work. So not a knife in the back then or a dose of arsenic in the tea – it’s a wordy thing!

The more I write, the more I learn not to fall in love with my witty turn of phrase such as it is. If what I have written doesn’t contribute to the story, clarify or progress the plot and solve the crime – it goes. Words serve a purpose like everything else. Use them sparingly.

As for the advice – my ‘darlings’ do need killing off, literally - and in order to do so my internet search history is full of knives, switchblades, arsenic, oleander flowers, how to electrocute someone without leaving marks…etc etc. Now I’m expecting a call from the serious crimes squad – maybe they have some new ideas…

Oooh look, in 1905 switchblades and stilettoes weren’t illegal - yay

Monday, 6 June 2016

New Publishing Contract

I have recently signed a new contract with Head of Zeus [Aria] for my Flora Maguire Cosy Mysteries

The first book is scheduled for 
release in October 2016 under a new title.
The second in December 2016
Three more books will be released in 2017 - 
all featuring the adventures of Flora and Bunny in Edwardian England
Do stop by for updates, covert art news etc. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Fire by C C Humphreys

First came Plague, now comes Fire. The epic tale of the hunt for a serial killer threatening London's rich and poor during the Great Fire of London. Perfect for fans of S J Parris and C J Sansom. 1666. The Great Plague has passed. Londoners celebrate survival in different ways. They drink. They gamble. They indulge in carnal delights. But 666 is the number of the Beast, the year foretold when Christ will return. 

A gang of fanatics - the Saints - choose to hasten that prophesied day. They will kidnap, rape, murder. Above all, they will kill a king. Two men - the highwayman William Coke and the thief-taker Pitman - are recruited to stop them. Then in the early hours of September 2nd, 1666, something starts that will overtake them all...London's a tinder box. Politically, sexually, religiously. Literally. It is about to burn.

This novel is the second which features the adventures of former highwayman Captain Coke, who is haunted by his experiences during the English Civil War, and a thief-taker named Pitman, both once on opposing sides, but who become partners, joined by Sarah Chalker, an actress and the Captain’s betrothed.

Coke and Pitman thwart an attempt on King Charles II takes place at the theatre, orchestrated by a fanatical group of Fifth Monarchists who interpret various signs, omens and compilation of numbers as God’s instructions to rid the country of its sovereign.

The Fifth Monarchist, Blood and his cohorts have a scheme to not only bring their fanatical views to fruition, but make life unbearable for Coke and his new wife, which they manage with heart wrenching lack of pity.
The language and banter between Coke and Pitman is delightfully authentic, without being difficult to read, and the character of King Charles is exactly as one would imagine him. He consults his timepiece during a meeting saying he must go because, ‘I am late for. . . something.’

Mr Humphreys takes the author’s rule to ‘put your character in a hole and throw rocks at them’ very seriously in this book as he takes the reader into the gritty, merciless side of 17th Century London life played out with its corrupt 
infrastructure, disease, anti-Catholicism and dirt ridden streets where despair is never far away, then complicates everything when the great fire begins on September 3rd.
A thrilling roller coaster of a story with some engaging characters. I hope to read more about them.