If walls could talk…by Lorraine Fraser King

Posted by on Aug 28, 2012 in 19th England, Historical Research | Comments Off on If walls could talk…by Lorraine Fraser King

If  walls could talk…

I was brought up in the north of Scotland. Folklore and family stories were full of tales of the supernatural. Standing stones and stone circles were part of the windswept, dramatic countryside through which I had to walk when I wanted to visit friends or get to school. We didn’t have a car then and our cottage stood alone on a hillside overlooking the village below in the valley.

The atmosphere of places has always fascinated me. From mediaeval cities pristinely preserved such as Pérouges, the underground cities of Cappadocia to the simplicity of a row of fisherman’s cottages along a seashore – they all get me wondering about the past generations that walked the same path. Over the centuries, the stone structures remain little changed but the social conditions and life experiences of each generation tell unique stories.

As I explored the narrow, winding streets of Peel, in the Isle of Mann I found myself in a little backstreet of fishermen’s cottages. One cottage stood out as it seemed to have been abandoned and left to decay. Each time I passed it, I couldn’t help wondering how different it must have been when it was first built perhaps two hundred years previously. This little row of cottages would have been new, built for the fishermen of the thriving fleet of boats. The narrow two up, two down design of the house would normally comprise a front room reserved for receiving visitors with a tight corridor leading to the kitchen and passing a steep set of stairs leading to two attic bedrooms. However, not everyone could afford the luxury of an entire cottage. It wasn’t uncommon for rooms to be rented out with entire families living in one room – a curtained  alcove the only privacy for parents.

In Victorian Britain, families tended to be very large. Even in my own childhood in the north of Scotland it wasn’t unheard of for families to consist of 10 or 12 children. Clothes were handed down from the eldest to the next and so on. With two or three children in a bed, topping and tailing helped to squeeze in one or two more. Accounts of life in Victorian times are often full of depressing poverty, ruined lives through alcohol or prostitution, squalor and banishment to a life of hard labour in the colonies for petty crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread. However, I began to think about those families that might have managed to have a loving, happy environment despite living in cramped quarters and having very little money for even the basic necessities of life.

This is how the story of Jamie and his family took shape and eventually became Mannin Boy. Since writing the original, I have now completely rewritten the story and whilst the plot is effectively the same, there is much more detail on life in the goldfields. The book is now about 30% longer and the new title will be The Bollan Cross. The new version will be launched later this year.

Lorraine Fraser King August 28, 2012