Thursday, July 07, 2011

Life in the Country Town

One Wicked Sin, book 2 in my Scandalous Women of the Ton Series, is out in the UK this month and I am very excited about it! I have been doing a series of radio and newspaper interviews to promote the series and one of the things that has fascinated readers is the idea that One Wicked Sin is set in Wantage when it was a parole town.

The idea of a small county town having to accommodate an influx of foreign prisoners fascinates me. At the end of the eighteenth century Wantage had the reputation of being very rough; as well as the prisoners of war, it's permanent population was swollen by the navvies working on the nearby Wiltshire and Berkshire Canal. There were reports of fights in the local inns between the townsfolk and the "incomers," and visitors to the area were warned not to visit Wantage as it was the sort of place where you might be robbed, beaten or worse.

I've always enjoyed reading reports from local newspapers of the era and from these one can gather all sorts of information on local life which often was a great deal stranger than fiction. I've included a few examples here just to give a taste of news from the English country towns.

From the Bury and Norwich Post, January 1801: "The following extraordinary incident took place at St Ives on Monday. A bullock walked into the passage of the Royal Oak public-house in the town and the staircase door being open, it went upstairs into the dining-room and ran with such violence against the front window (which was a sash) as to drive the whole window-frame into the street... It received no material injury."

From The County Chronicle, August 1801: "The young gentlemen of Eton, on leaving school for the Midsummer vacation, took their annual aquatic excursion to Surley-Hall... The young gentlement exhibited great skill in rowing, and were all attired in fancy dresses. In the evening some beautiful fireworks were let off and the day concluded with festive mirth and innocent entertainment."

From The Suffolk Chronicle 1815: "It is with the deepest regret we learn that a riotous disposition has shewn itself in the parish of Gosbeck... On Tuesday last, twenty deluded persons assembled and in a wanton and most disorderly manner they destroyed two threshing machines and threatened to destroy others."

From the Norfolk Chronicle, March 1806: "Tuesday morning last, we understand, an affair of honour was conducted between Captain RN and GT of the militia in garrison. A brace of pistols was discharged without effect. Upon the seconds interfering, the affair was honourably terminated. The cause of the misunderstanding we are not acquainted with."

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