Penny Gaffs, Sideshows, and The Silver King

Tom Norman’s traveling sideshow.

I’m in the middle of rewriting the original draft of Book 2 (Blood Rites), and I’ve decided to introduce several minor characters that provide an entrance for a very important main character. It’s always interesting as a writer to provide color and context to historical fiction, and this new collection of characters provides that in huge letters. I’m talking about Tom Norman, aka ‘The Silver King’ and his traveling sideshow.

Norman is often portrayed in film as a middle-aged to older man with a wine-soaked paunch and a sour face, but in truth he was only 28 years old at the time of Book 2 (November 1888). Norman was an actor and quite handsome, and his letters and personal memoirs seem to indicate a disposition inclined toward fair settlement for his performers rather than abuse. Of course, that is debatable, for Frederick Treves’s account of Norman is pretty much the opposite. Treves, you may recall is the London Hospital surgeon who took in Joseph Merrick after seeing him exhibited by Norman. I’ll not get into the Norman/Merrick/Treves debate here, but suffice it to say that Merrick–as with most of those displayed by the many ‘showmen’ in both England and America–probably lived a life far different from most in this world.

So, why have I decided to include the sideshow as part of this book? Partly, because it was an integral part of the east end and lower class entertainments, but also because it connects to a spiritual character, one hinted at in Book One but not formally introduced. I’ve placed the sideshow encampment near Hackney Marshes and an old settlement once owned by the Templars.

In short, the plot thickens.

Baby Farming in Victorian Times

Amelia Dyer, hanged for murder on June 10, 1897 at Newgate Prison, London. (Image from Thames Valley Police Museum)

By Sharon K. Gilbert

Illegitimate children were a major problem in the cramped cities of Victorian England, particularly in London. Though the legal system had originally (18th century) penalized men who fathered children out of wedlock, that financial roadblock was removed in 1834 with The New Poor Law (and its ‘bastardy’ clause). Now, the woman alone was responsible for the child’s welfare, which meant an unwed mother–often with few skills or prospects–was left to find means to support a dependent infant. Those in domestic service usually lost their jobs if found to be pregnant, and so that income might be lost. Not was unwed pregnancy and motherhood stigmatized, it was actually punished (in the misconception that doing so would prevent such pregnancies). However, young women without family or skills often found themselves seduced by unscrupulous men for personal reasons and often also for profit. Procurers prowled the backstreets of London with their eyes peeled for vulnerable young women.  Continue reading “Baby Farming in Victorian Times”