Heroes and villains

Sketches_by_Boz_-_The_Streets,_Morning
The Streets, Morning, illustration by George Cruikshank for Charles Dickens’ Sketches by Boz (1839): Public Domain

In this post I shall be discussing the personages we meet with in Joan Aiken’s Black Hearts in Battersea. If you have no idea what I’m talking about you’ll find my review here. If you do know what I’m talking about but haven’t read the book yet you may want to look away now do avoid massive spoilers. If you’ve read the novel already then it’s mostly safe to continue your journey — except there’ll be hints about what may be coming up further in the Wolves Chronicles. So tread carefully …

As this novel largely deals with the interaction of heroes and villains (the latter the blackguards of the title) the following lists supply them in that order. We start with a group which features the ostensible lead character (though we soon lose our hearts to another).

The Battersea family
A family tree of the Dukes of Battersea is included in chapter 6, but I only intend to include those who are still alive in the course of the story.
William, the fifth Duke of Battersea, was born in 1780 and therefore is around 53 in late 1833. The Dukes get their names from the district of Battersea on the south bank of the Thames opposite Chelsea on the north.
Justin (born 1818 and therefore 15) is the spoilt youngster known as Viscount Bakerloo; he gets his anachronistic title from the Underground railway line only completed in 1906 (a portmanteau word compounded from Baker Street and Waterloo Station). We first meet him as the son of Simone Rivière (born 1792) and Lord Henry Bayswater (born 1785), orphaned when both his parents were killed in 1818 in the Hanoverian Wars and thus the nephew and heir of the fifth Duke.
Henrietta (née Notting, presumably after Notting Hill) is wife to William and therefore the Duchess of Battersea, and known familiarly as Hettie. The Duke and Duchess have no children of their own.
Simon (born 12th April 1818) was found wandering mute in the Yorkshire village of Loose Chippings in 1821, when he was three years old. He was sent to the Poor Farm run by Mr Gloober the Overseer, who was paid two shillings and sixpence per child by the parish to look after each orphan; Simon was so ill-treated by the Gloobers that he would later walk “half across England” to escape.
One autumn four or five years later (around 1826, when he was 8) he ran away to live in the woods, landing up near Willoughby Chase in 1828. In 1832 he helped Sylvia and Bonnie Green to escape Blastburn and come to London, where they all meet Dr Gabriel Field. In the summer of 1833, looking “about fifteen”, he returns to London to begin his art studies at Rivière’s Academy in Chelsea. He is later discovered to have the ‘Battersea tuft’, a lock of white hair at the base of the neck contrasting with his black hair.
Sophie (born 12th April 1818) was another orphan, reportedly brought up by an otter and then by Turveytop, a Yorkshire charcoal-burner, until she was seven (1825). The Parish overseer sent her to Gloober’s Poor Farm where Mrs Gloober trained her in dressmaking and she met Simon. She was fortunately employed by Henrietta Duchess of Battersea at Chippings Castle in Yorkshire, which the Batterseas had as a country residence. As the Duchess’ maid she encounters Simon again when in London in 1833.

Chippings Castle, Yorkshire
Mrs Gossidge is the housekeeper at Chippings
Matthew Mogg is the aged steward
Dolly Buckle, who was sometime nurserymaid at both the Battersea residences,declares she was “Nursie” to Simon and mother to Justin; she was marooned on the North Sea island of Inchmore by her husband in 1819 who suspected she was planning to run off with Nathaniel Dark, captain of the Dark Dew

Cobb’s Coaches, Chelsea
Sam Cobb, owner (his name perhaps derived from the small stocky horse called a cob) who kindly gives Simon a job to help earn his keep
Flossie Cobb, his wife, née Fidgett, originally from Loose Chippings, Yorkshire; she was a former parlour maid from Chippings Castle and has a two-year-old called Libby
Dan Fidgett, brother-in-law of Sam Cobb, brother of Flossie

Rivière’s Academy, Chelsea
Dr Jean-Jacques Furneaux is the diminutive Principal of Rivière’s Academy in Chelsea, not far from Chelsea Bridge, which Simon attends. To his irritation the Frenchman’s surname is usually mispronounced as Furnace (due to his fiery nature, perhaps); his students refer to him as Fur-nose
Augustus (“Gus”) Smallacombe and his friend Fothers are art students at the academy; Mrs Gropp is Gus’ landlady

Young Joan Aiken (photo: http://joanaiken.com/pages/gallery.html)
Young Joan Aiken (photo: http://joanaiken.com/pages/gallery.html)

The Twite family
Dido, when we first meet her at No 8, Rose Alley, Southwark, is described as little and shrewish-looking, like an “ugly, scrawny little bird” (a twite is a finch of a nondescript brown colour) with pale blue eyes and straw-coloured hair; she seems around 8 or 9 but subsequent clues (in Dido and Pa) will establish she was born on March 1st 1824. There is little doubt that this is a pen portrait of the author herself (as her daughter Lizza confirms) who coincidentally was born a hundred years later in 1924. When Dido is lost at sea (did Dido die?) Sophie is so convinced that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of her that we believe that too.
Penelope is Dido’s older sister; aged 16 she was probably born in 1817. Both Penelope (“Penny” or even “Penny-lope”) and Dido were named by their parents after river barges, unaware that these were originally the names of classical heroines, one the Queen of Carthage and the other the Queen of Ithaca and wife of Odysseus. A fan of The Ladies’ Magazine and The Maids’, Wives’ and Widows’ Penny Magazine, Penny runs away from the Twite household, eloping (we read in The Cuckoo Tree) very appropriately with a buttonhook pedlar. We’ll hear more of her in Dido and Pa and in Is.
Abednego is the husband of Ella and the father of Penny and Dido. It is interesting that he is named after one of three youths who survive Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace after refusing to bow down before the king of Babylon’s image as he — wittingly — escapes the gunpowder explosion designed to support the Hanoverian claimant to the throne of England. Fond of a tipple, he proves a slippery customer (we discover in the sequels that he is also known as Desmond), a poor husband and an even worse father to boot. His only redeeming graces are his talents as a composer and musician: he’s even managed to teach Dido the oboe.
Ella is a good match for Abednego, being his wife as well as a Hanoverian plotter, and is one of those who meets a sticky end. I’m not sure of her maiden name — it could be Buckle as this is the surname of the man Dido knows as Uncle Buckle, but I also have a note that she may have been born a Thorn (very fitting, if so).
Tinty Grotch, another Hanoverian plotter, plays the cello in the Twite ensemble, and runs the greengrocer’s adjoining Rose Alley. Dido calls her Aunt Tinty and she is named as Abednego’s sister-in-law, but quite how she fits into the family tree I confess ignorance of. It’s even possible to adduce her maiden name is Kirlingshaw: the character called Talisman in Limbo Lodge is said to wear a medallion like Aunt Tinty.
Aunt Poke runs the dairy next to Tinty Grotch’s greengrocer’s shop and is also in on the conspiracy. Tod may or may not be her son; he is an odd little character who sings about Tom Tit Tot — the British equivalent of Rumpelstiltskin — and is prone to lead Simon astray like the fairytale character.
Grandpa is another conspirator attached to the Twites, probably a Buckle and therefore father to Ella and Eustace Buckle. He claims he is from Epping Forest.
Justin, who first appears as Viscount Bakerloo, is finally revealed as … the son of Eustace Buckle and Dolly Buckle. He veers between awful (like his father) and loveable (like his mother). His full name is revealed to be Justin Sebastian Buckle, doubtless an echo of Johann Sebastian Bach though he is unlikely to be musical in any way, any more than he is artistic.

Battersea Castle
Eustace Buckle, tutor to Viscount Bakerloo, described as “a sandy-haired, pale-eyed individual dressed in rusty black,” used to lodge with the Twites in Rose Alley, to whom he may be related. He is the main villain of the piece, having two nefarious aims: (1) establish the Hanoverian line on the throne and (2) establish his son Justin as Duke of Battersea.
Midwink, Duke’s valet from Chippings (as are most of the rather dubious staff) who makes a pass at Sophie
Daggett, gate-keeper
Scrimshaw, footman; although a genuine surname the name is better known as a generic term for carvings on ivory and bone, especially those made by whalers (Joan Aiken may have already been planning the next sequel set in Nantucket, famous for its whalers, and this word could have suggested itself) — it’s speculated that scrimshaw indicated any handicraft done by sailors in their spare time
Jabwing, another footman
Fibbins, Duchess’s elderly lady’s maid (perhaps her name derives from fib, a lie)
Waters, head groom (apt as he works by the Thames)
Jem Suds, the rascally stable-boy at Cobbs (his surname perhaps suggested by association with Mr Waters)

Others
Elijah Murgatroyd, captain of the Dark Dimity
Madam Lolla, gypsy fortune teller at Clapham Fair who foretells the future of Simon, Justin and Dido; like the name Lola her name derives from the Spanish Dolores meaning ‘sorrows’
‘Young Turveytop’, who claimed to be the nephew of Turveytop, the charcoal burner who had brought up Sophie

* I have not dotted every i or crossed every t in these notes because so many of the puns and references are self-evident and you could have fun seeking them out yourself. Some names (like Fidgett) are of their own accord quirky while others (like Waters and ‘Furnace’) allude to significant incidents, especially the various perils that befall the benevolent aristos.

And in case you’ve been wondering why I’ve omitted the not insignificant figure of James III in this cast list I shall be discussing him in a separate post. Soon.

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6 thoughts on “Heroes and villains

  1. It is truly amazing how she found appropriate and clever names for so many characters, while none of them are actually preposterous. Mind you, one does find real family names that seem far more … unlikely. I am descended (unsurprisingly, according to Much Better Half) from Nutters.

    1. Why does that last observation not surprise me? 🙂 I’d make do with Noble if I were you …

      Mind you, my parents chose to saddle me with no less than four forenames — Christopher Allan Leslie Michael — which apart from being a bit of a mouthful (imagine how terrifying hearing all those names called out when you’re in trouble) was doubtless intended to inspire me to Zen-like tranquillity. It’s been partly successful.

      1. Noble is fine with me …
        So that is part of your Karma? You have one more than I, and of course No 3 is a match. I have found my lot handy, as so far Google hasn’t been able to produce anyone else with my combination. So now, with writing and stuff, I flaunt them instead of desperately hiding them as in my youth.

        1. Flaunt away, kind sir. I in the meantime put my initials to good use in this blog’s title. In a sister blog — which I have sadly neglected of late — I have punned upon calmgrove for Zenrinji, roughly translated from the Japanese, equates to Temple of the Calm Grove.

    1. I’m so chuffed you think my meanderings useful, Lizza, and as for alternative viewpoints it would be somewhat tedious if we all limited ourselves to ploughing the same furrow! Anyway, I take my lead from your posts where I’m always presented with fascinating new viewpoints of Joan’s works, her modus operandi and her varied life, so thank you for enriching my understanding. 🙂

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