The Birthday League

Thames Tunnel (from the circular staircase), London published in Dugdale’s England and Wales Delineated, about 1830 [engraving, credit: Antiche Curiosità]

Remembering a piece of advice that a sailor had once given her, [Dido] said to the boy, “When’s your birthday? Mine’s the first of March.”
‘When you talk to a savage or a native,’ Noah Gusset had said, ‘always tell him some secret about yourself — your birthday, your father’s name, your favourite food — tell him your secret and ask him his. That’s a token of trust; soon’s you know each other a bit, then you can be friends.’

We have already begun to look at the personages in Joan Aiken’s alternate history fantasy Dido and Pa and now it’s time to conclude that prosopography. From Petworth in West Sussex and Wapping in the East End of London we now move to Chelsea and other parts of southeast England to examine who we will be meeting in these places. Here is the usual spoiler alert. As if it is needed.

King’s Road, Chelsea
Bakerloo House

Lady Sophie Bakerloo is the twin sister of Simon and, as she informs little Lucy from the Birthday League, her birthday is on the 10th April. A Bakerloo family tree at the beginning of Dido and Pa reiterates that the twins were born in 1818, the only offspring of Simone Rivière (1792-1818) and her first cousin Lord Henry Bayswater (1785-1818), the latter being the younger brother of William, fifth Duke of Battersea. Simon is the 6th Duke of Battersea in succession to his uncle, and therein lies a conundrum.
• The family tree [reproduced below] shows the fifth duke, William, as having died in 1840, but this later date must be at least four or five years into the future of the Wolves chronology, casting doubt on Simon and Sophie’s titles. How to explain this discrepancy?
Two possibilities spring to mind. The first is that William (whom we last met in 1833 in Black Hearts in Battersea) has disappeared (perhaps on one of his balloon flights) and is assumed to be dead, and that Simon has assumed the title — allowing William to actually depart this life in 1840.
The second possibility is more pragmatic: there has been a typo and William actually died in 1834, not 1840: after all, the family tree is confusing, as it also seems to show Lord Henry and Simone may be brother and sister whereas Simone, the daughter of Lady Helen Bayswater and Marcus Rivière, had eloped to Europe with Lord Henry. (Joan Aiken may have had the examples of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley in mind, or even Mary’s sisters Claire Claremont — who is suspected to have had a liaison with Lord Byron — or Fanny Imlay, who committed suicide in 1816. And of course Jane Austen died in 1818, the same year as Sophie and Simon’s parents.)
If William did actually die in 1834 this would at least solve one discrepancy.

Fidd is the aged porter at Bakerloo House who gets agitated when the lollpoops play their games in the courtyard. (There were a number of individuals with this surname in London, according to the 1841 census.) Tarrant is the Batterseas’ footman.

Sim (or Simon) and Sam are two grooms at Bakerloo House; we’ve already come across Matthew Mogg, Simon’s aged groom, not to be confused with the groom called Ned at The Cow on the Roof in Petworth who’s in league with Pa. Among their many responsibilities is Lochinvar, Simon’s horse, named either from the loch in Kirkcudbrightshire in southwest Scotland or from the young gallant knight in Sir Walter Scott’s poem of the same name:

O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best…

Dolly Buckle befriended Simon on the Scottish island of Inchmore in Black Hearts in Battersea; she’s now the housekeeper at Bakerloo House. Coincidentally she is also the sister-in-law of Dido’s mother Ella (and therefore Dido’s aunt) but Dido has yet to meet Dolly. Inchmore Island is where the Margrave claims he ‘intends’ to accommodate the dethroned King Richard.

Lucy is one of the lollpoops who plays in the courtyard of Bakerloo House. A ‘lavender girl’, she is befriended by Sophie and they swap birthday dates: Lucy’s is on February 5th.

Wapping
Bart’s Building

Lily Bloodvessel claims she is the former Matron of Honour to Eisengrim but, perhaps due to her liking for alcohol and addiction to cigars, has been demoted to ‘housekeeper’ of Bart’s Building — a post she is not destined to hold onto for much longer. Her unusual surname suggests a strong link with the wolfish vampire that is the Margrave.

Though never explicitly stated, Is (‘the Slut’) may well be Lily Bloodvessel’s daughter by Pa when he was still ‘married’ (?) to Ella Buckle, Dido’s late mother; you may remember Ella as being a Hanoverian conspirator who at Christmas in 1833 was blown up in Battersea Castle, according to Black Hearts in Battersea. Dido, unaware Is may be her half-sister, guesses she may be nine or ten years old — born anywhere between 1825 and 1827, depending on our chronology — though she is only the size of a six year old, very possibly due to malnutrition.
• Is, we’ll discover in Is Underground, is actually Isabett. As a side note, I suspect Isabett is a closet reference to Joan’s own daughter Elizabeth, who (as Lizza Aiken) manages the excellent website dedicated to the author of the Wolves Chronicles, The Wonderful World of Joan Aiken.

Figgin is the name of the cat befriended by Is at Bart’s Building, which is also instrumental in achieving the rescue of Sophie from Cinnamon Court.

Sampan Stowage, Wapping
London’s original Chinatown was a little further east in Limehouse

Sam Greenaway owns this warehouse just off Green Bank. A former sailor who was blinded at sea, he is now a costermonger as well as a prophet or foreteller (like Teiresias in Greek myth), and a cheiromancer or palm-reader. The name of the warehouse links Sam’s name with the traditional Chinese craft, way smaller than an ocean-going junk.

Wally Greenaway (10), the younger of Sam’s sons, is one of the lollpoops who kips in Lily Bloodvessel’s cellars. Though cross-eyed he runs a coffee stall; when eight years old he was a sweep’s boy, then a cracksman’s boy helping to burgle safes. He is also ‘conductor’ of the Birthday League.

David (‘Podge’) Greenaway is Wally’s older brother. A former art student at Rivière’s Art Academy in Chelsea he was a friend of Simon’s, and now paints inn-signs (such as The Wig & Fetter in Chancery Lane and The Feathers in Wapping High Street). He is in love with Sophie.

The Two Jolly Mermaids
A pub in Wapping, perhaps near Wapping Lane

Polly Tapster is the barmaid at the inn, and a Hanoverian. Benge is the landlord, and a Royalist.

Thames Tunnel
The southern entrance is in Rotherhithe, not far from St Mary’s church, the bells of which can be heard on the north side of the Thames. The northern entrance is near Glamis Gardens in Shadwell, which is where Wally Greenaway sets up his coffee stall for the crowds spectating the tunnel procession

The Procession for the official opening of the tunnel. Southwards: Household Cavalry etc; carriages; the King’s Coach; the Margrave’s coach; Household Grenadiers; Bombardier Guards. Northwards from Kent: milkmaids, shepherds and hay wagons; Royal Coach (used for the Coronation of James III, Richard IV’s father, at midsummer in 1832).

St James’s Palace, and St James’ Park
The royal residence in London. Here is where the grand ball after the tunnel opening takes place, November 30th (?) 1835 or 1836

Princess Adelaide of Thuringia is described as a plump, plain, kind-faced lady with steel-rimmed glasses, intended as Richard IV’s bride but not yet married when the king is crowned. As we will discover in Midwinter Nightingale there is more to this match and this princess’s history than meets the eye.
• Joan Aiken maybe was thinking of Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen as inspiration here. She was Queen Consort of William IV, having married William in 1818 when he was in his fifties and she in her mid-twenties. The Australian city of Adelaide, founded in 1836, was named after her.

Handkerchief Harry is one of the lollpoops who attack Dido’s Pa in St James’s Yard, pursuing him as far as St James’s Park to the east, where they leave him semi-conscious and where the wolves find him.

Blackheath
Area south of Greenwich, in Kent

Penelope Twite (known by Dido as ‘Penny-lope’) left Rose Alley in Black Hearts in Battersea to elope with a buttonhook salesman, who then promptly left her; when she lost her baby she was reduced to making and selling soft toys in a hut in the woods somewhere in Blackheath, when she was known as ‘Mrs Curd’. She was never enamoured with Dido, and is not particularly chuffed to see her again, but she and Is seem to do more than tolerate each other.

Wenlock Castle
Wenlock Forest

The Duke and Duchess of Shropshire were at the Margrave’s musical soirée but actually live in Shrewsbury House, in Wenlock Castle by Wenlock Forest. It is here that the Margrave pretends that Sophie goes after seeing him, but it’s in fact a ruse: Wenlock Castle is at least six hours return by horse, and that doesn’t take account of snow or wolves; instead the Margrave intends to marry Sophie — rather in the manner that Dido’s Pa intends Dido to marry the Margrave — and he hopes to ‘persuade’ Sophie it’s in her own interests that she accede to his plan.
• If Wenlock Forest is in Shropshire, then it’s unlikely that the 150-mile return journey would be accomplished in six hours: it could take nearly six hours just to get there nowadays by car if traffic was heavy. (It’s been estimated that it could takes a horse and carriage between eight and twelve hours just to travel 50 miles, and 100 to 150 miles in 24 hours, including stops to rest and eat.)
From which we must assume that Shrewsbury House is at most 25 miles from London, and probably closer: the author evidently envisages it in the vicinity of Windsor Castle, in the middle of Windsor Forest, which is just over 20 miles west of the middle of London. The fictional Dukes of Shropshire are possibly counterparts of the hereditary Earls of Shrewsbury; they actually owned a Shrewsbury House in Isleworth, Middlesex (just ten miles west of London) though this in fact was demolished by 1810.

“SHREWSBURY HOUSE ISLEWORTH | The Front next the Thames as it was in 1796 since taken down …” [credit: British art, Yale]


We have noted most of the characters who appear or are mentioned, however briefly, in this novel. Next we shall be examining the themes that Joan Aiken includes here, as they may also relate to the rest of the series

12 thoughts on “The Birthday League

  1. Oho…family secrets coming out! I like the Isabett connection, thank you, and Lavender Lucy shares a birthday with Joan’s granddaughter whose name sometimes begins with an L!
    March 1st is shared by Dido and Joan’s mother Jessie of course.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, I’m guessing this L isn’t the granddaughter called Arabel?!

      I often wondered about the origins of Is and her name, especially given the Breton connections expounded in Is Underground and the obvious allusions to the sunken Breton city of Ys (which Debussy evoked in La Cathédrale Engloutie). I’m now hoping you had a favourite kitten which was called Figgin… 😁

      Liked by 1 person

      1. earthbalm

        And very informative they are too – I for one appreciate the amount of work that must go into researching and writing your posts. Have just returned from a visit to Abergavenny where I bought an ex-BBC copy of “The Concise Oxford History of Music”.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Birthday League — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  3. earthbalm

    I can’t remember.. I think it may have been the charity shop in the same block as the market. Also bought a copy of retelling of Shakespeare’s tales with the most wonderful Victor Ambrus illustrations.

    Liked by 1 person

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