The world of Dido’s Pa

The illustration is of The Wolf and Fox Hunt (about 1616) by Rubens in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (image: public domain)

Another piece in the series of posts of one of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles

In Dido and Pa much time is spent in the East End of London, in the docklands area of Wapping. But the narrative ranges more widely than this, and this post looks at the bigger picture. The role of Dido Twite’s father (Abednego/Desmond/Denzil/Boris) in this novel is huge, though his peregrinations in the capital — as we shall see — aren’t as extensive as some of the other characters.

A town in West Sussex where much of the action of the earlier chronicle The Cuckoo Tree took place

The Cow on the Roof Tavern is actually a little north of Petworth, described by Simon as “a little inn on the outskirts” and in the text as a humble thatched building at the junction of three roads. It’s from here that Dido gets abducted by her father to Wapping in London.
• As far as I know there isn’t, and has never been, a pub or inn of this name in the vicinity of Petworth: Joan Aiken may have got the name from a Norwegian folktale about a disastrous male-female role-reversal, or possibly from French eateries named La vache sur le toit. (In parts of Europe many country cottages traditionally had a turf roof on which goats and other animals frequently clambered.) And of course the name is all of a part with the imaginative titles of Abednego Twite’s dance tunes and songs.

There is a pub called The Stonemasons Inn on Petworth’s North Street, located in a row of 17th-century cottages, which the author may have had in mind as a model: at one point Dido’s Pa declares he is “a paid-up member of the National Union of Flintchippers” which may be an oblique reference not only to the chalk country of the South Downs but also to the name of this pub.

Docklands district in the East End of London, mostly described in a previous post

Dido and Pa cross London Bridge before turning eastwards past the Tower of London into a maze of narrow streets that lay close to the docks. They stop briefly at a corner tavern called The Two Jolly Mermaids (perhaps somewhere along Pennington Street running parallel to Ratcliffe Highway) before heading towards Wapping Lane and Farthing Fields and the banks of the Thames.
The name of The Two Jolly Mermaids was probably inspired by The Mermaid Inn in Rye, East Sussex, which stood almost opposite Jeake’s House in Mermaid Street where Joan herself was born.

Chelsea in 1834: Symons Street and Sloane Square are at the very top edge (credit:

This area is on the north bank of the Thames opposite Battersea: both last featured in Black Hearts in Battersea

Dido’s friend Simon, who figured in the first two chronicles—The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and Black Hearts in Battersea—has gone from goose boy to art student to Duke of Battersea and Master of the King’s Garlanderies. After losing Dido at Petworth he has travelled to Chelsea, to Bakerloo House on the King’s Road, near where he once studied at Dr Furneaux’s Academy.

Bakerloo House is of course anachronously named. Originally an amalgamation of Baker Street in Marylebone and the Napoleonic battle Waterloo for a line on the Underground, the derivation has no place in this alternate history. And where is Bakerloo House located exactly?
The mansion has a courtyard with a fountain in it, a space perhaps inspired by Sloane Square. I have a fancy that the author envisages Bakerloo House on the site of the present Peter Jones department store overlooking Sloane Square. Why? This building is bounded on one side by King’s Road and on the other by … Symons Street, entirely fitting for our Simon’s residence.

It’s from here that Sophie, Simon’s twin sister, sets off on her second ill-fated trip to see the Margrave in Wapping and where Simon departs to go hunting wolves.

An open area south of Greenwich Park where the Thames makes a southwards loop on its way to the North Sea.

This particular winter many more wolves have been entering the tunnel under the English Channel en route for Kent from northern France. In late November they’ve been reported in Ashford, Dymchurch and Romney Marsh, and now have overrun Blackheath and Dulwich. Tasked with hunting wolves, Simon rides across Chelsea Bridge and into Kent, along Streatham Hill, Sydenham Hill, Forest Hill, Hilly Fields and Shooters Hill to Blackheath. Historically this was where discontents rallied in centuries past, famously for Wat Tyler’s Peasant Revolt in 1381 (which Richard II managed to defuse) and for the Kentish rebellion led by Jack Cade in 1450.

Simon was previously associated with a wolf hunt in the form of a painting which he was cleaning for the previous Duke of Battersea (in Black Hearts in Battersea) and which indirectly revealed his own origins. Joan Aiken may have had in mind a famous tapestry-like painting by Rubens called The Wolf and Fox Hunt though here Simon is physically involved in the hunt. (Another influence may have The Hunt in the Forest painted by Uccello around 1470, though this represents a deer hunt.)

After Simon rescues Dido’s sister Penelope from wolves he returns home via the Thames tunnel, Wapping High Street and Tower Hill. The next time the tunnel features is when Richard IV’s double Van Doon travels through it, conveyed by carriage via Rotherhithe, Deptford and Greenwich up Forest Hill to Blackheath.

Meanwhile wolves have crossed the frozen Thames at Charing Cross and Lambeth, ranging through Westminster, Millbank, Victoria, Pimlico, the Strand, Whitehall and St James’s Park. After nearly a week of blizzards it takes perhaps until the January of the following year to reduce the wolf population to a manageable size.

St James
St James’s Palace was the main residence of the monarch until Buckingham Palace was adopted. Ambassadors are still accredited “to the Court of St James”.

Apart from his foray down to Petworth Dido’s Pa spends most of his time in Wapping—at Cinnamon Court and Bart’s Building—and is latterly found at St James’s Palace and the adjacent St James’s Park. The court of St James is where the reception after the tunnel’s inauguration takes place, where Abednego has his moment of glory conducting performances of his own compositions; and the park is where a certain somebody has his quietus.

St James’s Palace and environs from Hughson’s Walks through London. North is to the right; the Queen’s Palace is now known as Buckingham Palace (credit:

We’ve looked at the confused chronology of this novel and now about key sites. Still to come is discussion about the people in the story and themes from the Chronicles included in Dido and Pa.

8 thoughts on “The world of Dido’s Pa

  1. Pingback: The world of Dido’s Pa — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  2. piotrek

    I’ve just had my first encounter with Dido today, she is a handful! Not going to read the entire post, to avoid spoilers, but I intend to slowly go through the series, although I still prefer Aiken’s short stories.
    Is there a master post for your Aiken pieces? I’ve located ones dedicated to Black Hearts…, but I’ll wait with reading most of them until after going through the novel.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Isn’t she adorable? Your heart will melt…

      No master post as yet, Piotrek, though as there is a gap between Dido and Pa and the remaining titles in the series I shall probably do a ‘The story so far’ post summary.

      Having said which, there are tags which should help: ‘Wolves Chronicles’ , ‘James III sequence’ and ‘Dido Twite’ series will hopefully get you to all the posts, but tags for individual books should bring up all related pieces (‘Black Hearts in Battersea’ you’ve already identified).

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I hope to finish the remaining Tiffany books during 2019 before I even think of embarking on a similar marathon to the in-depth Dido study! (A PhD perhaps? Stands for “a Panoptic History of Dido” of course…)

          Liked by 2 people

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