Death in the Archives

Here’s another piece I wrote during my Arvon creative writing week for history writers. I’ve taken some old research and done something new with it. The aim of this piece was to be present in the text as a character, talking about myself and reflecting on my own experiences. The other aims were to fill the piece with changes of ‘texture’, as our tutor called it. It seems an odd word, but it makes sense: a piece of writing needs changes of pace, tone, point of view, etc., otherwise the reader feels it’s all too samey and they get bored. A third aim was to try to include dialogue or reported speech, though I only made a token gesture at that.

Death in the Archives Continue reading

La Rentre: Ten books about the Victorians

We’re now well and truly into September, the nights are drawing in and it’s starting to feel a little autumnal. As the French would say, it’s la rentree – that time of year forever associated with going back to school after the holidays.

So why not make the most of that back-to-school feeling by brushing up on your knowledge? Here are ten wonderful books about the Victorians, to ease you back in to historical studies! Continue reading

I pity you, you phrenological fool!

Phrenologists! Mr T feels sorry for you!

In the early nineteenth century many people genuinely believed that personality and aptitudes – from criminal tendencies to tendency towards religion – were mapped out on the contours of the skull.  Continue reading

Christmas in the Asylum

Imagine spending Christmas inside Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in the nineteenth century. What a horrible thought!  A long way from the cosy Dickensian Christmas of the roaring fire, Christmas tree, roast goose and plum pudding that the rest of Britain was enjoying.  But was Christmas in the asylum really so much worse than on the outside?

Broadmoor’s main entrance

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On the Bookshelf: Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise

Sarah Wise’s 2012 book Inconvenient People: Lunacy,Liberty and the Victorian Mad-Doctors explores the real-life stories that inspired the well-worn Victorian cliché of the sane woman carted off to a lunatic asylum by scheming relatives. Inconvenient People’s most startling revelation is that in almost all cases the wrongfully incarcerated asylum inmates were men. The idea of the woman in peril was just as titillating to the Victorians as it is to us, but in those days only men had money, and money was the main motivator for wrongfully declaring someone a lunatic. Continue reading

Henry Onequi, Broadmoor patient and dastardly villain

My book on Victorian Broadmoor will feature the life stories of many individual patients, some well-known, others less so. But there are some patients that I just can’t squeeze into my book, so I will give you their stories here instead.

This week I present to you Broadmoor patient and dastardly moustache-twirling villain Mr Henry Musgrave Onequi. Continue reading

Bedlam’s dead uncovered…


As the epic Crossrail tunnelling machines were burrowing their way across London last week they uncovered a mass grave.  More than 4,000 skeletons have been discovered, coming from a plague pit and Bedlam’s (Bethlem Lunatic Asylum) graveyard.  London’s archaeologists are … Continue reading