Mapping Victorian London by T. G. Campbell

T.G. Campbell is the author of the Bow Street Society series of books. Set in Victorian London, they are based on meticulous research into the period. In this feature, which coincides with the launch of The Case of the Toxic Tonic, T.G. Campbell explores the mapping of London in 1896 and the way in which she has researched it. 

The Case of the Toxic Tonic. A Bow Street Society novel by T.G. Campbell
The Case of the Toxic Tonic. A Bow Street Society novel by T.G. Campbell

Mapping the Bow Street Societies London (1896)

London needs no introduction. Both ancient and modern, it adds millions of tourists to its millions of residents every year. One could visit London every day and see something different. The many layers of its long and rich history may be seen in its architecture, its streets, its public houses, and even in the names of its underground stations. Capturing its vastness and condensing it into prose is a challenge for any writer. This challenge is then complicated further when a historical fiction writer must turn back the clock to the time in which their novel is set. I know it’s a hurdle I’ve encountered numerous times during the course of writing my Bow Street Society works. There are three sources I’ve come to rely upon, though, when mapping the London of 1896. In this special feature for Schools History I’m going to explain exactly how I did this and, as a result, demonstrate how you could do it, too.

Reynolds’ Shilling Coloured Map of London (1895) and the Map of London Railways (1897)

Reynolds’ Shilling Coloured Map of London (1895)
Reynolds’ Shilling Coloured Map of London (1895)

In the first Bow Street Society mystery, The Case of the Curious Client, seasoned cabman and Bow Street Society member, Mr Samuel Snyder, embarks upon a search for a missing man known only as “Palmer”. Undertaking this search on behalf of the Society’s client, Mr Snyder draws upon his knowledge of London’s tramways and omnibus routes to follow possible journeys “Palmer” could’ve taken from the client’s house in Bow Street.

It was early the next morning and Sam Snyder was once again on the hunt for the elusive Mr Palmer amongst the omnibuses of London… Sam sighed as he pondered upon his next course of action—then he saw an omnibus bound for Westminster Bridge. Hurrying to pay the cad the required fare in the moment before he slammed the door shut, Sam climbed aboard and took one of the many empty seats on the lower deck…he made best use of his time by enquiring with any other passengers who he thought may have seen their Mr Palmer…Again, however, they couldn’t say for definite if they’d seen him or not.

When the omnibus arrived at Westminster Bridge but a few minutes later, Sam disembarked and carefully moved through the throng of people all vying for a place on his ‘bus. His intended destination wasn’t the omnibuses, however. Instead, his footfalls took him to the tram line transporting passengers to various stops, such as Clapham Common, Peckham, Battersea, and Wandsworth to name but a few, in vehicles, though similar in appearance to omnibuses, running on rails sunk into the ground. They were still horse powered but Sam could remember the earlier trams which ran on steam; that was another story entirely though. The fares for the trams were very like those of the omnibuses in that it was ld. or 2d. for part of the journey, and 2d. to 4d. for the whole journey, thus it was still viable that Mr Palmer had made a connection with one from the omnibuses as Sam had.

His enquiries with the first tram he came across though yielded no leads, nor did the second, or third. Sighing, he returned to the omnibus bound for Charing Cross and, paying his fare, took it back to that chaotic thoroughfare. From there, he took the blue Camberwell omnibus bound for Waterloo Bridge but alighted at the Strand from whence he walked to Ludgate Hill. Here he made enquiries with the omnibuses bound for Blackfriars’ Bridge, with no luck, before boarding one and enquiring with the trams departing from Blackfriars’ Bridge to stops in the south, such as Deptford and Greenwich. When no one recognised Palmer’s likeness, Sam was beginning to wonder if they would ever find him.

Returning to Ludgate Hill, on the omnibus, he caught a dark-green Holloway omnibus to Gray’s Inn Road where he enquired with the trams bound for Kingsland Road and Stoke Newington via Clerkenwell Road as well as those bound for Dalston Lane, Mare Street, Hackney and Hampstead via King’s Cross. Sam was keen to keep the parameters of his search reasonably small for the moment. Unfortunately, once again, no one could give him any further information about Mr Palmer’s whereabouts. Deciding to double back on himself slightly to make enquiries with those trams departing from Moorgate, to thus cover the stops both north and northeast of that terminus.

Extract from The Case of the Curious Client.

The sequences of omnibuses and trams which Mr Snyder takes are the actual routes outlined in the “OMNIBUSES” and “TRAMWAYS” sections of Reynolds’ Shilling Coloured Map of London. To help me visualise the routes Mr Snyder could take I followed the tramlines on the Map of London’s Railways according to the routes on Reynolds’ Shilling Coloured Map of London. This enabled me to describe his search as being logical and practical in its execution. I could identify the various start and endpoints of his journeys while ensuring Bow Street was kept at the heart of the geographical area he was searching.

The close proximity of these sources’ publication dates to the year in which my book was set (1896) meant I could be confident my portrayals of these routes were accurate. As a result, the in-depth expert knowledge Mr Snyder has—the very thing he was recruited into the Bow Street Society for—is credible and reliable. As an author trying to recreate the London (and world) of 1896 I believe it’s essential to ensure the knowledge and expertise of all the fictional Bow Street Society members is historically accurate.

Booth’s Maps of London Poverty East and West 1889 by Charles Booth

By Charles Booth - (cropped). Original: Charles Booth's Labour and Life of the People. Volume 1: East London (London: Macmillan, 1889)., Public Domain,
By Charles Booth – Public Domain sourced from Wikimedia

This has been my “go-to” source for all Bow Street Society works to date. Its depiction of London’s streets and the various classes of people living on those streets have been invaluable. Whenever I’m trying to “house” a character in my writing I like to use a real-life street to give the reader a stronger sense of connection to the period. By this point, I’ll have a good idea of the character’s social class status. I’ll, therefore, use Booth’s Maps of London Poverty to help me pinpoint a street where my character could’ve lived. I’ve also used this same technique for the placing of a fictional public house.

To date, Booth’s maps have helped me to “house” Scotland Yard Inspector John Conway on Ballance Road, Hackney and Mr Percy Locke and his wife, Doctor Lynette Locke on Cleveland Terrace. Numerous suspects, victims, and witnesses have also been “placed” in a specific real-life location in my books as a result of this technique. The maps have also helped me to pinpoint the location of real-life places which I’ve then gone on to include in my books, e.g. St Martins-in-the-fields church. By contrast, the maps have also helped me to pinpoint a real-life location for a fictional place, such as the Turk’s Head Public House in Edgware (from The Case of the Lonesome Lushington), and the Walmsley Hotel (from the upcoming The Case of the Toxic Tonic).

It could be argued the level of detail I include in my books is unnecessary from the point of view of the plot. A strong sense of time and place is something I strive to give my readers, though. By giving fictional homes, pubs, etc. real-life addresses which my readers may be familiar with, I’m able to sharpen their experience of Victorian London. Furthermore, it can provide countless opportunities for my readers to visit the streets named in my books, thereby further strengthening their connection to my work. This is especially true in the case of Bow Street Police Station and Law Courts. Despite no longer being in operation, the building still stands. In the past, a reader has described to me how she imagined my characters standing on the police station’s steps when she visited the building. It gave me immense satisfaction to know I’d achieved what I’d set out to do when I wrote the scene in The Case of the Curious Client.

Link: London School of Economics unit on Charles Booth’s Poverty Maps

The Case of the Toxic Tonic, the fourth Bow Street Society mystery book by T.G. Campbell, will be released on the 31st August 2019 in eBook. It will also be available to download for free through Kindle Unlimited.

When the Bow Street Society is called upon to assist the Women’s International Maybrick Association, it’s assumed the commission will be a short-lived one. Yet, a visit to the Walmsley Hotel in London’s prestigious west end only serves to deepen the Society’s involvement. In an establishment that offers exquisite surroundings, comfortable suites, and death, the Bow Street Society must work alongside Scotland Yard to expose a cold-blooded murderer. Meanwhile, two inspectors secretly work to solve the mystery of not only Miss Rebecca Trent’s past but the creation of the Society itself…

The Case of The Toxic Tonic is released 31st August 2019:

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TG Campbell discusses Victorian Crime and her novels