What is historically correct in Chapter Seven of Spyders?

This is a note on what is historically correct in Chapter Seven of the North Staffordshire novel The Spyders of Burslem:—

The Burslem Workhouse. The original local workhouse is imagined in the novel as lasting into the late 1860s, but in reality the old one became the Scotia Pottery in 1857 and soon after was sold to Bodley & Harrold…

“The old parish workhouse was sold by the guardians in 1857 for £1,000 after several unsuccessful attempts to secure more. It was bought by James Vernon who converted it into the Scotia Pottery” — A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 8.

The newer and purpose-built Wolstanton & Burslem Union Workhouse at Chell served a wider area than simply Burslem. It had 132 inmates in 1839. It had around 160 adult inmates listed in the 1881 census. This suggests that my estimate of about 100 Workhouse inmates from Burslem town (then a town of 22,000) would be about the right number for 1869.

The Lyme was a real local forest, although long gone by 1869. It gave its name to Newcastle-under-Lyme.

There was a North Staffs Fox Hunt. See the book: A History of the North Staffordshire Hounds and Country, 1825 to 1902. Also the 1995 updating by Simon P. Huguet, The North Staffordshire Hounds: a history of the North Staffordshire Hunt, 1845-1995.

Mrs. Mary Brougham the bookseller was a real historical figure. See the historical notes on the previous chapter for full details. She did indeed commission some fine ceramic Parian miniatures from local artisans.

The Free Trade Movement was real. See the book The Free-trade Movement and its Results for details.

The various trades of Birmingham, Burton, and Leek are correct. However, leather was more in Walsall.

The Cat Motor is an obvious invention. There was however much activity in this area in the mid 1800s, and Dr. Morton suggested that the history of static electricity in the UK could be…

“divided into three periods … the second, a period extending from 1800 to 1869”.

Earth currents had indeed only just been discovered in 1869. The Stoke inventor Oliver Lodge — a partial inspiration for Miss Craft (the inventor in the novel) — apparently made one of the first practical local demonstrations of electricity as a boy at Hartshill in 1868. Like Craft he was a science prodigy, and later was a key player in the invention of radio.

Mrs. Brougham’s casual mention of Mr. Morlock Bones and his assistant Moriarty again shows the reader they are in an alterative history. Morlock Bones is, of course, a play on the name Sherlock Holmes. Morlock is my allusion to the ‘morlocks’ in H.G. Wells’s famous The Time Machine. Wells published a macabre story set in Stoke, in the same year that The Time Machine was published.

The description of the Rousseau psychographic portrait is correct, and is based on this painting of him…

Rousseau wore this type of dress in the Staffordshire Moorlands, and did indeed go hunting herbs on the moors. Erasmus Darwin did once try to meet with Rousseau in the Moorlands, but the paranoid Rousseau rebuffed him.

Rousseau did indeed give his five children into the care of the state. The extreme Jacobins of the French Revolution indeed adored Rousseau. And…

“The Jacobin leaders were explicitly disciples of Rousseau […] It was Rousseau’s followers who prevailed in the French Revolution, especially in its destructive third phase” — from Rousseau and the French Revolution.

The real Thomas Wedgwood was indeed interested in educational theory in his youth. See the biography for more details.

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