The second part of the Who’s Who of Joan Aiken’s The Cuckoo Tree, in which we venture to Petworth and to London, and encounter strangers and friends
Warning! Ahead lurk many more spoilers . . .
Historic Sussex town, originally ‘Peorta’s enclosure’, fourteen miles northeast of Chichester on present-day A285
Mr Godwit. The small painted sign above his shop door in Market Square, Petworth reads Godwit & Son, Ironmongers & Conspirators. The apothecary is himself a “thin, wizened little man in rimless spectacles” with thin grey eyebrows and a soapy face. We will find that, as well as the expected farming implements and kitchen equipment, he is organising the manufacture of many iron rollers to hasten St Paul’s Cathedral into the Thames. Dido is less surprised than we are to find him declaring his allegiance to a revolutionary cause, content to order a pair of crutches for Captain Hughes.
William Pelmett. The apothecary has his business next door and downhill to Godwit’s, his shop sign advertising himself as Wm. Pelmett, Chymist & Chirugeon. He provides Dido with ointment and bandage for Captain Hughes. He bears “a strong and unprepossessing resemblance” to Sam Pelmett, one of the footmen at Tegleaze Manor.
Pickwick, FitzPickwick and Wily. Uphill from and next door to Godwit’s on Market Square is Messrs Pickwick, FitzPickwick & Wily, Solicitors and Attorneys-at-Law. Sir Fritz FitzPickwick is Colonel FitzPickwick’s cousin. (The Fitz prefix, from French fils, was used from the Stuart period usually to designate an illegitimate son of royalty and his descendants.) Mr Wily is younger than his older and frail partners (who remind Dido of “ancient hairless mice”) but makes up for his youth by looking villainous and untrustworthy. The three, in their capacity as local magistrates, perfunctorily sentence Tobit to ten years transportation to Australia for allegedly stealing two shubunkin fish, each worth fourpence-three-farthings, from Betsy Smith‘s hoopla stall at Petworth Fair.
Margrave of Bad Fallingoff. Hanoverian, potential buyer of Tobit’s Luck-piece, according to the conspirators. Bad indicates a German spa town, Fallingoff (parody of a Polish or Russian surname) is a nod to how many villains in the Chronicles literally meet their downfall.
Will Hoadley. Landlord of The Angel Inn in Angel Street, and godson of Yan’s great-aunt Gertrude. Yet another ‘cousin’ of Yan’s, he appears to be related to Jem Hoadley, the shravey character who failed to pass on Dido’s letter to her friend Simon. Miles Mystery lodged at the Angel during his time in the Petworth area.
George (‘Jarge’) Gusset. Landlord at The Fighting Cocks in the High Street (later to become The White Hart). Brother to Gusset, the butler at Tegleaze Manor, uncle to Yan Gusset, leader of the smugglers known as the Wineberry Men, and father to Ted Gusset. Married to Sarah (‘Sary’) Gusset, who tends Captain Hughes after he’s been ‘overlooked’ by the evil Mrs Lubbage at Dogkennel Cottages. Sarah still mourns Hannibal — either her previous husband or a son — who was killed when struck by lightning while out smuggling in a rowing-boat, fifteen years before, on Michaelmas Day (29th September 1821).
Miles Tuggles. As Miles Mystery he presents a puppet show called Miles Mystery’s Amazingly Mysterious Mannikins, during which the audience, liberally provided with hallucinogenic joobie nuts, may well imagine the glove puppets to be alive. He is known to his fellow conspirators as Miles Tuggles, but being from an American branch of the Tegleaze family he hopes to claim the Tegleaze estate as his own. He expects this to happen following King Richard IV‘s demise when St Paul’s Cathedral slides into the Thames, and after Hanoverian Pretender Bonnie Prince George succeeds to the throne and confirms him as Miles Tegleaze. He is also due a well-deserved ‘bad falling off’.
Desmond Twite. The musician who accompanies Miles’ puppet show on his hoboy or oboe. Also Dido’s long-lost father, formerly called Abednego Twite, a Hanoverian conspirator and smoker of Vosper’s Nautical Cut.
This last is a typical example of Aiken word play: Vosper was a Portsmouth shipbuilding company specialising in fast naval vessels; a cutter is the name given to Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise (now UK Border Force) patrol boats; and ‘navy cut’ is said to refer to the way sailors used to prepare smoking tobacco, finely cut from a block of compressed tobacco leaves.
Desmond retains only a residual affection for his daughter, being entirely self-absorbed. Can he be described as a malignant narcissist? Certainly sociopathic tendencies can be detected in him. His only saving grace seems to be a talent for music, as both composer and player. His character will be further explored in Dido and Pa.
Stopham House, Pulborough
Dido is scrobbled and held at Lord Sope’s gazebo here
Lord Plantagenet Sope. The kindly milord rescues Dido from the less than tender clutches of Tante Sannie with the help of Sunflower, his Bengal tiger. He then allows Dido the use of Rachel, his Indian elephant, to get to London in the hopes of delivering the naval dispatch in time.
Rachel is very likely partly inspired by the elephant and howdah presented to Queen Victoria at the 1851 London Exhibition, as well as by the Elephant and Castle pub south of the Thames (of which more later). Lord Sope’s name is pronounced ‘Soup’ — much as the former 14th Earl of Home and sixties prime minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home’s last name is vocalised as ‘Hume’.
Diggins. Lord Sope’s footman.
The capital is making ready for the coronation of Richard IV in St Paul’s Cathedral following the death of the Prince of Wales’ father James III
Rear-Admiral Charles Transome. Writer of the dispatch carried by Dido, subsequently partly chewed by Mrs Lubbage’s rat, warning of the conspiracy to scuttle the coronation.
Prothero. Officious porter at Toffy’s Club, St James, London. The surname is of Welsh origin.
Lord Forecastle. Pronounced Fo’c’sle, the First Lord of the Admiralty is a toffee-nosed old fuddy-duddy who fails to understand the urgency of Dido’s news and disbelieves the authenticity of the mutilated dispatch she and Yan bring him. Commonly plays backgammon with the Bishop of Bayswater at their club in St James.
The name derives from the forward deck of a ship, in medieval times literally a wooden castle.
Sir Percy Tipstaff, the Lord Chief Justice, is more amenable to Dido and Yan’s news and expedites their journey from St James to St Paul’s.
A tipstaff is the formal name given to court official, much as Parliament’s Black Rod is named from the staff s/he bears, a judge is addressed as the Bench or a monarch as the Crown. A bishop is named here as the Crozier of Winchester for the same reason.
Lord Raven. Tall, gaunt and draggled-looking, the Home Secretary is a stickler for rules and procedures.
Simon. Duke of Battersea, Master of the King’s Garlandries, responsible for decorating St Paul’s Cathedral for the coronation. Unknown to Dido the Duke of Battersea is her kind friend from Night Birds in Nantucket (1966) whom she is desperate to see after her years at sea.
Thomas Talisman. The Dean of St Paul’s, initially sceptical of Dido’s news. Dido discovers him building a house of cards with the King. Possibly related to Dr Jane Talisman van Linde in Limbo Lodge (1999) — this later novel is much taken with games, including card games.
The Dean’s name is inspired by the famous Tudor composer Thomas Tallis, now best known for Tallis’ Canon, the basis for the hymn ‘All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night’. Madeleine L’Engle features a Canon Tallis in some of her YA novels.
Miss Grissie. “A small cheerful old lady exactly like a nut,” Yan’s auntie Griselda Gusset is resident of No 4 Wardrobe Court, literally within a stone’s throw of St Paul’s Cathedral, who will be in the path of the Cathedral if and when it slides down to the Thames.
Owen Hughes. Son of Captain Hughes, his presence is required to carry the King’s train during the coronation. He’s been given this honour for having rescued the King (when Prince of Wales) from wild beasts and drowning, as recounted in The Whispering Mountain (1968).
Polyglot. The garrulous pet parrot that both Tobit and Cris recall having when they were infants on Tiburon Island in the West Indies.
St Erconwald. Also known as Erkenwald. A 7th-century Bishop of London and patron saint of the capital. The only foot that remains from his statue has an ignominious but utilitarian fate when taken to send a message shot from Tobit’s sling into Wardrobe Court from the cathedral.
More posts to follow on chronology, themes and places in The Cuckoo Tree