Chapter nine of Spyders: what is historically correct?

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

The working-class outsider who inherits a great man’s fortune is one of the common ideas in Victorian novels.

Molded earthenware teapots had indeed been a Burslem staple, and would continue to be. Twyford had indeed invented modern sanitary ware at his Bath Works at nearby Cobridge, and later developed them at his purpose-built model factory at nearby Cliffe Vale.

Sissy Mint was a real chip-shop owner in Burslem, but he lived in the 1930s. He was one of the most well-known of the chip-shop men.

Herbalism still existed at that time. The Bibliotheca Staffordiensis (1894) talks of Culpers’s, a book not yet excised from Staffordshire’s libraries despite the many accounts of the alleged “occult” properties of the plants it described…

Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, and English Physician. Wherein several hundred herbs, with a display of their medicinal and occult properties”

See C.S. Burne’s fascinating 1896 article in Folk-Lore: A Quarterly Review, “Staffordshire Folk and Their Lore“, for more details of archaic survivals of herbal and other folk beliefs in the county. Sadly I didn’t see this article before I finished the novel, or I would borrowed a few names and phrases from it.

1768 was indeed deemed a “bad year”, of many eclipses.

There was indeed a Brewery in Zion Street, Burslem. Not mentioned in the novel is the fact that a young trainee manager there was once the Nottingham murderer and alcoholic William Horry. But by the time he was a killer, he had moved to Nottingham.

The southerly facing illuminated clock dial of the Burslem Town Hall was indeed illuminated, presumably at that time by gas.

The tradition of the “rat in the cider” is an old one, and I remember the BBC’s The Archers once spun a week’s worth of episodes out of it.

The ‘Green Man’ figure can still be seen in various places around Stoke. The artist Kate Lynch has done quite a bit of research on the topic, especially in Stoke old town.

The old Victorian ceramic-tiled underground toilets existed in Burslem town centre until very recent times. I went down into them myself, in the early 2000s. They were destroyed by the Council sometime in the mid 2000s.

Eugenics was then a current theory, and academically acceptable until the 1940s.

The ‘League of the Just’ did exist, although at a later date. In its later and more German form in the middle of the 19th century it was the place in which modern terrorism was theorised…

“Karl Heinzen was the first to provide a full-fledged doctrine of modern terrorism; most elements of latter-day terrorist thought can be found in the writings of this forgotten German radical democrat.” — Walter Laqueur, A History of Terrorism (2009).

…thus the novel’s fictional conflation of the group with The Terror of the French Revolution is somewhat justified.


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