Friday, 25 September 2015

The Tower Subway

The most enjoyable thing about historical research, is the fascinating facts about London I have discovered which supply perfect fodder for my novels. One I will definitely add to my Flora Maguire Mystery series is the existence of the second oldest tunnel under the Thames built during Victorian Times.

In 1863, an attempt to bridge the river failed due to ‘the great height required for the passage of ships’ A steam ferry service was also abandoned as it would have disrupted the heavy amount of shipping which used the river in the mid-19th Century.
Tower Hill Entrance

The Tower Subway ran between Tower Hill on the north side of the river, to Vine Lane, just west of where Tower Bridge stands now on the south bank. Built using a method similar to Isambard Brunel, i.e a wrought iron tunnelling shield bored through a layer of clay just below the river bed. Budget restrictions meant the tunnel was only 7 feet in diameter and 1320 feet long.

The tunnel progressed at a rate of 9ft every twenty four hours and was completed in just over a year, designed to take a narrow-gauge cable-hauled railway powered by a static steam engine. Passenger lifts to the surface and a cable car were powered by a 4hp stationary steam engine.
From behind a hoarding at Tower Hill, passengers would descend by lift into a vaulted and well lit area of about fourteen feet square designated as a waiting room. Then shuttled twelve at a time in a cable car across the river on a journey which took about 70 seconds to Vine Street, where the shaft was slightly shallower, a few minutes’ walk from London Bridge Station.

For the first hundred feet or so the omnibus was pulled by a rope fixed to a stationary engine; then descended by its own velocity down an incline and up the incline on the other side to the foot of the shaft.
The Waiting Room

Priority of ascent was given to first class passengers, who paid two pence, while the second-class passengers paid one penny. I am not sure if this means that the extra money meant you could jump the queue and leave the ‘Halfpenny’ crowd waiting a lot longer than the designated five minutes for the entire process, but that was probably how it worked.

Collins' Guide to London and Neighbourhood stated: Those, however, who are afflicted with chest complaints should not attempt to make use of it, owing to the extreme closeness of the atmosphere and the limited space in the tube, which renders stooping necessary. It is open from 5.30 AM. till midnight.

The service proved so uneconomical, it lasted only from its opening in August 1870, until the company went into receivership that November. The cable car and tracks were removed and the tunnel turned into a pedestrian walkway the following year. Gas lighting was provided, with stoneware tiles replacing the wooden planks. The lifts were replaced by spiral staircases; the one on Tower Bridge side was 96 steps. 20,000 people a week braved the dark, dank and claustrophobic tunnels to walk beneath the Thames at a cost of a halfpenny each way.

Omnibus Carriager
Tower Bridge was opened in 1894, when crossing by bridge in the open air was free, the toll tunnel was abandoned, then eventually closed for good.

At its height, the subway carried a million foot passengers a year. The tunnel was sold to the London Hydraulic Power Company for hydraulic tubes and water mains which is what it is used for today.

During WWII, the tunnel was badly damaged when a German bomb landed in the Thames, although the tunnel lining was not penetrated.

The Tower Subway is not open to the public, but the northern entrance still exists at Tower Hill, next to the Tower of London ticket office. The entrance is not original, but a replacement built in the 1920's. Strangely, English Heritage does not feel Tower Subway does not meet the criteria for listing as an historical building.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879
 .........A curious feat of engineering skill, in the shape of an iron tube seven feet in diameter driven through the bed of the Thames between Great Tower-hill and Vine-street. The original intention was to have passengers drawn backwards and forwards in a small tram omnibus. This, however, was found unremunerative, and the rails having been taken up the tunnel has since been open as a footway. Unfortunately, however, after subtracting from its diameter the amount necessary to afford a sufficient width of platform, there is not much head-room left, and it is not advisable for any but the very briefest of Her Majesty’s lieges to attempt the passage in high-heeled boots, or with a hat to which he attaches any particular value. It has, however, one admirable quality, that of having cost remarkably little in construction. 


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

It's Not RSI - It Was The Skates

I acknowledge that I spend more time than most people at my laptop, but I write, so it's to be expected.

Recently I have noticed pain in my wrists when I do other things, like taking tops off jars or removing plugs from sockets – for the benefit of my US friends, UK plugs have three prongs – I wouldn’t have this problem there with those wobbly, two prong fragile things - I have no idea how they stay in the sockets at all and why you don't all die in electrical fires....!  But I digress……

I have another theory about the sticky/sore wrist thing.  When I was six, I broke my left wrist roller skating and had to have my arm plastered to the elbow. No helmets or knee pads required in those prehistoric days. You attached a metal bar with wheels onto your shoes then too! [See pic above-these are so much like mine I could cry]

Four days later I did the same to my right arm and back we go to A&E to have it plastered as well. The doctor was concerned as to how I had managed two such injuries in a short space of time and suggested investigations for brittle bone disease. My mother laughed hollowly and pointed to where I was at that moment balancing along a three foot wall outside his office, one arm in plaster and the other in wet plaster and a sling. She turned a ‘That’s what I have to put up with’ look at the doctor who didn’t say another word.

He did however peer at me over his half spectacles and said, ‘Young lady, when you are older, those wrists of yours are going to give you some trouble.’

I was six – ‘Older’ had no meaning for me – I was more upset about the fact my mother had thrown away my roller skates! However, that eminent man’s words come back to me now when everyone tells me I have brought on the creaky wrist thing myself by all that typing and suggest I stop, or at least ease up a little.  

I can’t. I’m a writer - It was the skates – honestly!

Friday, 28 August 2015

Olga by Ted Kelsey

I don't usually read children's or YA books, but this one had such an engaging cover I was intrigued to discover what it was about.


Magic weapons, white tigers, cat-faced moths and giants on motorcycles… OLGA is Ted Kelsey’s captivating first novel and features illustrations by the fine artist and illustrator, Dillon Samuelson.
When a mysterious figure is seen floating and dancing in the field near their house, Jack and Sally decide to investigate. This decision will lead them to an exciting place far beyond their imagination, the home of OLGA.
Nothing in the clouds is as it appears, and in order to get home safely, Jack and Sally must first learn whom to trust, and find a way to believe in themselves.
A story of spirit and imagination that the Online Book Club has described as “interwoven with comedy and deeper emotions of freedom and loneliness”, OLGA will delight readers of all ages.


Olga by Ted Kelsey is an engaging fairy story written for the new age where Sally, a girl who can look after herself and doesn't need a hero to rescue her, sets off with her friend Jack into the cloud kingdom where they meet Olga, the sad daughter of an evil cloud giant who has been plotting with his brothers to destroy the earth and make it their own. 

This tale has magic, courage and adventure and is just long enough to keep the attention of the younger reader used to living with texts, tweets and soundbites. The story has a scary element which will also appeal to today's young who seem to like their fiction dark as well as a moral message too. This story can be enjoyed by any age group.  I'm well into adulthood and almost out the other side, and I enjoyed it.

The illustrations, which first attracted me are by Dillon Samuelson and are quite lovely.

Ted Kelsey's Website

Friday, 31 July 2015

1900-The Golden Age of the Transatlantic Steamship

SS Minneapolis at Tilbury - May 1900

While in search of a location for my first venture into writing an Edwardian cosy mystery, I discovered the extensive information given on the Atlantic Transport Line Website. Four sister ships, known as the ‘Minne’ class, were commissioned from Harland and Wolff in Belfast in 1898. The Minneapolis, Minnehaha, Minnetonka, and Minnewaska. At 600 feet long, the Minneapolis had the largest tonnage of any ship afloat [excepting the Oceanic] and were among the first vessels fitted for wireless telegraphy. She left New York in April 1900 with a complement of seventy eight first class only passengers and fifty five crew.

I chose the SS Minneapolis, which left New York in April 1900 on her maiden voyage - which technically made my novel a Victorian cosy!

The Illustrated London News 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.

The library, or writing-room, is painted white and a little relief in gold. The bookcase is at present without any books in it, as they have been promised as a gift to the ship by the city of Minneapolis, in recognition of the vessel’s having been given the name of this great western city; but unfortunately the books did not reach New York in time to be put into the case.

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.

American reporter Earl Mayo, wrote a satirical article for Forum Magazine in 1904 on transatlantic travel, and says of his fellow passengers:

"Here we are, all met on an equal footing. For these few days we shall all be weighed, not by what we own or claim to be, but by what we really are."

I kept Mr Mayo’s adage in mind when writing Murder On The Minneapolis, in that my characters were among strangers where their deceits and invented 'legends' could not be exposed.

Mayo emphases the importance of the passenger lists, a copy of which were placed in each stateroom and were pored over. Marks were made against names and the labels on unoccupied steamer-chairs studied, then they would wait until the occupants appeared. Mayo complained that where Baedeker guides place an asterisk on hotels to guarantee they were first-class, the steamship companies don’t, with the result that: ‘The very best people are set down cheek-by-jowl with the nobodies.’

Mayo opines: ‘This is, naturally, very galling. It is unbearable. What is the use of being anybody if nobody knows it? Why extract a week from the delightful publicity of land-life, and sink it in the obscurity of ocean life?’
Tea On Deck
He also had a lot to say about the preponderance of lone female travellers:

‘A season or two ago the fact of the great increase in the number of women travelers received a peculiar illustration in the case of one of the ships of the Atlantic Transport line. On one of her voyages this vessel 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 on gossip::

‘Maids and valets are very useful on board, because they talk. They are funds of enticing information, especially when they belong to the exclusive people--and they generally do. The mistress says nothing, but the maid tells the truth! The master is silent, but the valet discloses all that it is necessary to know!  It is shameful to listen to their stories, and there is no excuse for it. Still, one does feel more cheerful when it is positively asserted by the gentle maid that the haughty dame, with the lorgnette, who has been snubbing everybody, sells all her old clothes that won't dye, and hits her husband when she is feeling lively.’

And honeymooners:

‘If he leaves her for a minute, his love is growing cold; if she chats with an unsuspecting passenger, she is a flirt who will never settle down; if he sleeps happily in his steamer-chair by her side, he is tiring of her; if she yawns at the endlessness of the day, married life is beginning to pall; if his voice be raised as he talks to her (he may be advising her to try and eat something at luncheon) , he is developing into the usual cut-and-dried husband; if she be too indisposed to care much how she looks, she is learning how to disenchant a husband; if he doesn't call her" tootsy," he is a cold-blooded wretch; if she looks serious and gloomy, she is learning that marriage is a failure.’

Passengers' had their names on the stateroom doors and a bell to announce callers. A steward was summoned with one ring of an electric bell and two rings for a stewardess. Steamer chairs and rugs  could be rented at a cost of four shillings for the duration of the voyage. The chair bore the occupier’s name and woe betide anyone who sat on the wrong one!  The library tended to be a female domain, while the smoke room, which sported the first real fireplace on an ocean liner, being male territory.

Dining Room on SS MInneapolis
Regular lifeboat drills were mandatory after the Mohegan disaster in 1898 off the Cornish coast, the lifeboats were actually lowered as if a real disaster loomed.

Life as a crew member was hard. The stewards, known as ‘Southampton Boys’ as that was where the best were trained, would earn about $15 a month with board and lodging. A steward had to pay for his own uniform, laundry bills, plus a sum to have his area of the communal cabin cleaned. He rose at five-thirty and was on duty until eleven pm. A senior steward could earn $150 a month, while the ship’s captain earned more than the six officers he commanded combined.

Passengers were expected to adhere to a rule for tips: given at the end of the voyage, a minimum of ten shillings—two and a half dollars—to each of the bedroom steward, deck steward, saloon steward, bath steward, a dollar to the "boots," the smoke-room steward, and the organist or band, all of which went a long way to make up their low income.

Crews were signed on for one voyage, at the end of which they were paid off and hoped to sign on again immediately for the next. If their ship should sink, even as a result of enemy action, their pay ended the moment the ship went under.
Captain Gates

The contrast in wealth between crew and passengers was vast. For instance, apart from the shuffleboard, concerts, dances and bridge games, one of the main pastimes on board appears to be use of the bar – which often cleared $5,000 on one voyage on a first class steamer in the busy season.

Captain Thomas F Gates commanded the SS Minneapolis on its maiden voyage. A naturalised American citizen and a sociable pipe-smoking teetotaler, he "danced two hours every night of clear weather" according to Time Magazine and was very popular with passengers. Known affectionately as "Tommy," and "Giggles Gates" — the "laughing skipper" because of his infectious laugh, his endless energy, powerful voice, and his laugh, was "known in ports all over the world" according to an obituary in the New York Times. It was said that when his ship docked he never needed to use a megaphone from the bridge. He served 45 years with the ATL, commanded 18 of their ships, described as "one of the most popular commanders in the merchant fleet."  

As my novel came to an end, I was sad to leave the amiable Captain Gates and the restful surroundings of the opulent and comfortable SS Minneapolis. I hope my readers will feel the same way.


Atlantic Transport Line Website

Gjenvick Gjonvick Archives has Earl Mayo’s full and entertaining article, as well as other observations on shipboard life at the turn of the 20th century.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Release Day - Murder On The Minneapolis

Flora Maguire, governess to thirteen-year-old Edward, Viscount Trent, is on her way home to England from New York after the wedding of her employer’s daughter.  Conscious of her status among a complement of first class passengers on the ship’s maiden voyage, she avoids the dining room on the first night, but meets a charming motor car enthusiast who goes by the unusual name of Bunny Harrington.  

Flora discovers the body of a man at the bottom of a companionway , but when his death is deemed an accident, Flora is not convinced. The mystery of her mother’s disappearance when she was a child drives her to find out what really happened to the dead man. Flora confides her suspicions to Bunny, and a German passenger, both of whom appear to concur with her misgivings. 

However, the ship's doctor and the captain are both reluctant to accept there is a murderer on board. When Flora and Edward are threatened, followed by a near drowning during a storm and a second murder - the hunt is now on in earnest for a killer. Time is running out as the SS Minneapolis approaches the English coast. 

Will Flora be able to discover who the murderer is and keep young Edward safe? Is her burgeoning relationship with the handsome Bunny Harrington a shipboard dalliance, or something more?
 Released by Buried River Press, an imprint of 

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