Sunday, 31 March 2013

March Competition

We have five copies of Tracy Chevalier's latest novel - The Last Runaway - which the best answers to the following question can win:


"What is the most interesting piece of research you have done, whether for a book or for your own pleasure?"

Answers in the Comments below.

Closing date 7th April

We are afraid all our competitions are open only to UK residents.

6 comments:

Sarah said...

My favourite piece of research was into James Holmes, the signalman found guilty of manslaughter after the Northallerton to Thirsk train disaster of 1892. I have written about it, and I now perform the story in costume of the period.

My knowledge of the subject went from nothing - until at my aunt's house, aged 17, I picked up a classic of Railway writing: LTC Rolt's Red For Danger: Great Train Disasters, and my uncle said 'You should read that. Your great grand-dad's in it. He caused one."

Then I knew the story from Rolt and from the very reluctant (and somewhat inaccurate) telling of my mother: it had never been mentioned in her family, though she knew her grandfather.

Then someone with whom I was re-reading E Nesbit's 'The Railway Children' said 'Isn't that what happened to your great-granddad?" There's an episode in the book, (not shown in the film), where to rescue a public school boy who has collapsed in a rail tunnel while playing 'Hare and Hounds' the children wake up a sleeping signalman and avert a disaster. The signalman says his child has been ill and he has had no sleep.

Which is exactly what happened to James Holmes, except that nobody saved him.

He returned home from his night shift to find his baby daughter ill, walked across a good deal of North Yorkshire to find the doctor, returned home and lay down with the baby in the bed, was woken after an hour by the baby having convulsions and within a minute she was dead.

Then he had to go to work: he asked for a replacement but there were none to be had. He slept for probably fewer than five minutes, was confused on waking and let a goods train onto the same track where the overnight train from Edinburgh was waiting. 10 people died.

It was interesting to compare the coverage of the crash with modern reporting. One woman who was burnt alive, trapped in the wreckage, was given no personal name at all (just "the wife of...) whereas Lady so-and-so's friends were assured, by the Times, that she was unharmed apart from a sprained groin. Train crashes were a staple of the Victorian imagination, and many magazines offered a payout if you were caught up in a crash, provided you had a copy of the magazine on you at the time. One passenger died with no fewer than seven such magazines about his person.

The trial verdict was guilty - and then, to cheers from the court, Holmes was released without punishment. He was later re-employed as a night attendant on the same railway.

E Nesbit and her husband Hubert Bland campaigned for James Holmes and for railway safety conditions to be improved (there had been nobody available in the whole North Eastern Region, to replace Holmes that night).

What gave me chills, though, was finding a sketch of Holmes on the front page of Bland's newspaper - on the same page as a report of a public school boy playing Hare and Hounds who collapsed and died.

Sarah said...

My favourite piece of research was into James Holmes, the signalman found guilty of manslaughter after the Northallerton to Thirsk train disaster of 1892. I have written about it, and I now perform the story in costume of the period.

My knowledge of the subject went from nothing - until at my aunt's house, aged 17, I picked up a classic of Railway writing: LTC Rolt's Red For Danger: Great Train Disasters, and my uncle said 'You should read that. Your great grand-dad's in it. He caused one."

Then I knew the story from Rolt and from the very reluctant (and somewhat inaccurate) telling of my mother: it had never been mentioned in her family, though she knew her grandfather.

Then someone with whom I was re-reading E Nesbit's 'The Railway Children' said 'Isn't that what happened to your great-granddad?" There's an episode in the book, (not shown in the film), where to rescue a public school boy who has collapsed in a rail tunnel while playing 'Hare and Hounds' the children wake up a sleeping signalman and avert a disaster. The signalman says his child has been ill and he has had no sleep.

Which is exactly what happened to James Holmes, except that nobody saved him.

He returned home from his night shift to find his baby daughter ill, walked across a good deal of North Yorkshire to find the doctor, returned home and lay down with the baby in the bed, was woken after an hour by the baby having convulsions and within a minute she was dead.

Then he had to go to work: he asked for a replacement but there were none to be had. He slept for probably fewer than five minutes, was confused on waking and let a goods train onto the same track where the overnight train from Edinburgh was waiting. 10 people died.

It was interesting to compare the coverage of the crash with modern reporting. One woman who was burnt alive, trapped in the wreckage, was given no personal name at all (just "the wife of...) whereas Lady so-and-so's friends were assured, by the Times, that she was unharmed apart from a sprained groin. Train crashes were a staple of the Victorian imagination, and many magazines offered a payout if you were caught up in a crash, provided you had a copy of the magazine on you at the time. One passenger died with no fewer than seven such magazines about his person.

The trial verdict was guilty - and then, to cheers from the court, Holmes was released without punishment. He was later re-employed as a night attendant on the same railway.

E Nesbit and her husband Hubert Bland campaigned for James Holmes and for railway safety conditions to be improved (there had been nobody available in the whole North Eastern Region, to replace Holmes that night).

What gave me chills, though, was finding a sketch of Holmes on the front page of Bland's newspaper - on the same page as a report of a public school boy playing Hare and Hounds who collapsed and died.

Julie said...

I was researching my family history and having trouble finding who my third great-grandfather was. I knew who is father and son were, but couldn't find any trace of him, not even a name. I found out once I found his parents graves...his name was on his mother's grave stone...he had been buried at sea at the age of 33. Once I had his name, I was able to find his baptismal record. He was baptized by Patrick Bronte (the Bronte sisters' father) at St Michael and All Angels Church in Haworth!

Sarah Nisbet said...

Very recently, I was doing some research for the launch of new online newspaper archive. It was a bit distracting, because there were so many odd Victorian adverts and snippets of strange news!
I found it shocking to find that there were so many reports of deaths caused by the wearing of crinolines. They were a fire- hazard for the wearer and dangerous for the passer-by, too, it seems. One man's death was recorded as being the direct result of tripping on a woman's crinoline: which lead me to wonder if, perhaps, he had wolf-whistled at her and she was seeking to teach him a lesson... :)

kohsamui14 said...

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and was arrested, the ensuing boycott of the buses by the city's black population forced an end to the segregation and brought to prominence Martin Luther King, the inspirational leader of the movement for black equality.
I researched the influence this had on the music of the time.

Jean Bull said...

My father died nearly 40 years ago, but I knew that he'd been wounded in the First World War, although he would never talk about it much. Therefore it was wonderful to be able to access his war records through Ancestry. And there, in his own handwriting, which of course I recognised, was the form he had filled in regarding his injuries. Further more I could find out which regiment he was with and the date he was shot, and from that contacted a military historian who sent me a copy of the regimental history so I could find the village where the action took place. A few years ago, I was able to stand on the same spot on the bank of a French canal and imagine what he went through nearly 100 years ago.