Loose Chippings to Battersea

OR, Dido Twite leaves London

Thames 1814
“View of the Thames off Three Cranes Wharf when frozen, Monday 31st January to Saturday 5th February 1814, on which a Fair was held attended by many Hundred Persons” (contemporary etching and aquatint dated 18th February 1814)

Imagine the scene: it is Christmas Eve, the date for the traditional Mince-pie Ceremony at Battersea Castle. An unfamiliar London custom? It’s not surprising as this is 1833 in the alternate history of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles, also known as the James III sequence. James III is the Stuart monarch and he has travelled by sled from Hampton Court to be at the ceremony. On the frozen Thames.

If that seems unlikely, consider this: for two centuries we had a Little Ice Age when rivers regularly froze over. So deep and long lasting were these conditions that Frost Fairs were held on the Thames, when it was even possible to light bonfires on the ice without repercussions. The last great frost fair occurred during the winter of 1813 to 1814. A famous print shows people and tents on the ice: to the left is Three Cranes Wharf near Blackfriars in the City, and in the distance we see a bridge with around twenty stone piers; this must be Old London Bridge (Southwark Bridge wasn’t built till 1819) which had had its old houses and shops demolished in the mid 18th century.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Black Hearts in Battersea begins one “fine warm evening in late summer” with Simon leading his donkey over Southwark Bridge in London. Joan Aiken isn’t more specific than this so I’m guessing this might be at the tail-end of August. Alternatively it may be that late September is the period she means. Why? Here’s my thinking.

Continue reading “Loose Chippings to Battersea”

Dido Twite’s London

Rose Alley
Detail from Christopher Greenwood’s 1827 London map (http://users.bathspa.ac.uk/greenwood/) Rose Alley appears here as ‘Horse Alley’

Joan Aiken’s Black Hearts in Battersea is, as well as a rip-roaring adventure story with vivid characters, a novel rich in sense of place, both real and imagined. In particular London features strongly (as it does in a couple of other Wolves Chronicles) so, with the help of Greenwood’s Map of London from an Actual Survey made in the Years 1825, 1825 and 1826, I shall be exploring Dido Twite’s London as it was in this alternate history in 1833, with other places to be detailed in another post. As well-known supermarket might say, I do the research so you don’t have to … Continue reading “Dido Twite’s London”

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 …

Continue reading “Heroes and villains”

Botheration on Bankside

southwark1859
Bankside, Southwark, London in 1859, not much changed from 1833. Bottom left: Rose Alley is where the Twite family lived, just to the west of Southwark Bridge; on the edge is Bear Gardens

Joan Aiken Black Hearts in Battersea
Illustrated by Pat Marriott

Red Fox 2004 (1964)

Late summer, 1833. The second in Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles opens with Simon, the orphan who helped cousins Sylvia and Bonnie Green to regain Willoughby Chase, looking for his friend Gabriel Field in London: Dr Field has offered him space in his Southwark lodgings so that Simon can attend an art academy in Chelsea. But Simon is encountering difficulty finding Rose Alley, having been misdirected a few times. When he does eventually find No 8 it is to discover no sign of the good doctor, only a streetwise little urchin called Dido and her rather strange family.

The mystery of Gabriel Field’s disappearance is only one of several puzzles that Simon meets during the course of this inventive novel, a good example of a sequel that is not only the equal of the first novel but in some ways almost surpasses it.

Continue reading “Botheration on Bankside”