Jingling James – An Annabelle Harper Story

It’s a week on stories on the blog. Maybe because The Lean Heart has been out for a fortnight and I want to remind you all to buy it. Or I like revisiting these pieces.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t an Annabelle Harper story. Before she met Tom, Annabelle was married to Harry Atkinson, who owned the Victoria public house on Roundhay road. He died in 1887, leaving her a widow to look after the place alone. This is what happened that Christmas…

victoria-pub

Leeds, December 1887

 

Annabelle Atkinson didn’t want Christmas to arrive this year. She didn’t feel any of the joy or the goodwill this December. It was barely three months since her husband Harry had died; the earth had barely settled on his grave.

They’d had a few good years before the heart attack took him. Now she had to look after the Victoria public house as well as the two bakeries she’d opened. On her own, sometimes she felt like she was drowning.

On Christmas Eve, once the last customer had gone, she’d bolt the door, close the curtains, and keep the world away until Boxing Day. She’d never been one to wallow in sadness; if you had a problem you took care of it and carried on. But the last few weeks…she’d been slowly sinking and she knew it. She felt like one of those jugglers in the music halls, trying to keep all the plates spinning in the air. Too many of them.

‘Come on,’ she said to Willie Hailsham, taking the empty pint pot from his hand. ‘You’ve had enough. Get yourself off home so your wife can remember what you look like.’

The same with Harelip Harmon, Donald the Steel Man, and Jingling James, always moving the coins around in his pocket. They’d stay drinking all night if anyone would keep serving them.

‘Don’t you have homes to go to?’

It was the nightly routine, almost a comedy act after so long. They drained their glasses, said their goodnights and then the bar was empty. She locked the door, drew down the bolts and let out a long sigh. Glasses to wash, woodwork and brass to polish.

Better get started, she thought. The work’s not going to do itself.

 

Up a little after three to supervise the baking in the kitchen at the other end of the garden. The last day before Christmas, orders to fill, plenty of demand; the two bakeries she owned would be little goldmines today. And the Victoria would be full from the moment the factories closed.

Gossiping with the girls as they all worked together, mixing, kneading, baking, the smell of fresh loaves filling the air and making her hungry. Back in the rooms over the pub she made breakfast.

This was what hurt most: the silence. There used to be so much laughter when Harry was alive. It seemed like there was always something to set them off. Now just being here was oppressive, all the weight of ghosts around her.

 

Dan the barman and Ellen the servant were already working hard with polish when she went downstairs. Sleeves rolled up and plenty of elbow grease, they’d be done soon enough. Nothing for her to do. The dray from the brewery was due at ten, but Dan could take care of that.

Annabelle put on her cape and picked up her purse. Go into town and have a poke around the shops. Happen an hour or two away would perk her up. But there was no magic in December this year. The pavements were full of people jostling around, weighed down by packages and bags. She felt removed from it all. The displays in the windows of the Grand Pygmalion didn’t make her want to part with her money. She was low, she knew it; a lovely gown or a good hat could usually tempt her. Today, though, there was nothing. No cheer.

Even a stop at the cocoa house for something warm to drink and a slice of cake didn’t help her mood. She trailed back out along North Street, through the Leylands and past Jews’ Park, back along to Sheepscar.

Soon enough the Victoria was busy. She took her place behind the bar, smiling, flirting the way she always had, and for a few minutes at least she could forget why she hurt inside.

‘Give over,’ she told one man who insisted he’d make a good husband. ‘I’d wear you out in one night, then I’d have to send you home to your missus.’ It brought laughter. As she walked around, collecting glasses, she brushed hands away, giving the culprits a look. It was all part of running a pub. A game; if you played it well, you were successful.  And she had the knack.

Annabelle promised old Jonas free beer for the evening if he played the piano in the corner, and soon half the customers were singing along the favourites from the stage. It gave her a chance to breathe and Dan could look at the barrels.

By eleven she’d had enough. The pub was still busy, the till was overflowing. But all the noise made her head ache. She wanted peace and quiet for a while. She wanted the place empty.

‘Come on.’ She rang the old school bell she kept under the bar, next to the cudgel for sorting out the unruly. ‘Time for you lot to see your families. They probably don’t believe you exist.’

Slowly, the crowd thinned. Another five minutes and it was down to the usual four still standing and supping. Donald the Steel Man, Willie Hailsham, Jingling James, and Harelip Harmon.

‘That’s enough,’ she told them. Her voice sounded weary. She knew it and she didn’t care. They were regulars, they’d probably been coming in here since they were old enough to peer over the bar. ‘Let’s call it a night, gentlemen, please.’

James slipped off to the privy while she was ushering the others out, wishing them merry Christmas and accepting beery kisses and hugs until they’d gone and she turned the key in the lock.

Then James was there, looking bashfully down at his boots. He was a gentle soul, a widower with grown children. Fifty, perhaps, his hair full white, jammed under his cap.

‘Are you seeing your family tomorrow?’ she asked.

‘Not this year.’ He gave a small shrug. ‘They all have their plans. It’s different now, everyone’s so busy. Are you going to your sister’s?’

‘A quiet day.’ Sometime before the new year she’d slip over to see her sister and the wastrel husband she had. Take some presents for their children. But she wouldn’t pop over to Hunslet and see her brother. He could take a running jump; she’d told him that a few years before. ‘Maybe it’s better that way.’

‘When my Alice died I carried on, same as I always had. The bairns were grown and gone but I still had to work and put a roof over my head.’

‘I know,’ she agreed. The everyday tasks that carried on like a machine. Without thinking, he jingled the coins in his pocket.

‘Then her birthday came around. We never made a fuss when she was alive, well, who could afford to? First we had the little ‘uns, then it didn’t seem to matter so much.’

‘We were the same,’ Annabelle said. ‘Harry’s birthday or mine, there was still the pub to run.’

‘Any road, the year she died, on her birthday it suddenly hit me how alone I was. Not just then, but for the rest of my days. Because no one could replace Alice. I had all them years in front of me.’

‘What did you do?’ she asked.

‘I sat there at the table and made myself remember all the good things. How she looked when she smiled, how she sounded when she laughed. The way she were pretty as a picture when we got wed. I said it all like she were sitting there and I was talking to her.’

‘Did it help?’

‘It did. But I can tell you’re feeling that way. I can see it in your eyes. I just thought it might help.’ He gave her a smile and bussed her cheek.

‘You said you’re not going anywhere tomorrow?’ Annabelle said.

‘That’s right.’

‘Come round for your tea. It won’t be anything special, mind.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes,’ she said with a smile. ‘I’ll probably be sick of my own company by then anyway.’

She locked the door behind him, hearing the jingling of his coins as he walked down the street.

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Little Alice Musgrave – A Leeds Story

I’ve decided to put up a short story every day this week. Most have been on the blog before, years ago. Some, like this, are published in my collection Leeds, The Biography. This takes its inspiration from the plague of 1645 in Leeds, which lasted for nine months and killed over 1300 people here – quite a percentage of the citizens. Alice lived on Vicar Lane, then a very poor area, and was the first to catch the plague and die. She was 11 years old.

The illustration is from the parish records, the names of some of those who died. Plague cabins were built on Quarry Hill (I’ve heard there were more in Holbeck) to quarantine victims.

Oh, if you’re all very, very kind and buy copies of my new book, The Leaden Heart, this week, then next week I shall post a brand-new Richard Nottingham short story. You know what to do!

scan0001

 

Little Alice Musgrave, lying in her bed,

Little Alice Musgrave with plague in her head,

All the prayers for Alice that all the preachers said,

Little Alice Musgrave, buried and dead.

 

The children sang it for years afterwards, long after most people had forgotten who Alice had even been. At first I’d chase them away and cuff at their heads, yelling through my tears, shouting at them to shut up. But it didn’t help. They’d keep on singing and every word cut deeper and deeper into my soul until I couldn’t cry out any more.

Last week I heard it again. A pair of girls, neither of them more than six, were using it as a rhyme for skipping ropes. The good Lord alone knows where they’d learned it. Alice has been dead these twenty years now. Maybe they’d heard their mother one day.

I was walking along Call Lane with my granddaughter, her hand tight in mine, and the words just made me stop, frozen as winter. I thought my heart might never beat again.

“What is it, Grandmama?” Emily asked. “Why are you crying like that?”

I had to draw in my breath slowly before I could answer her.

“It’s nothing, child,” I told her. “Just a memory that flew past.” I tried to make my voice light but it was filled with the weight of all the tears I’d shed. “Come on, let’s get ourselves home. Mama will be wondering where we are.” I clutched her hand tighter and we hurried away.

The words wouldn’t go away. In the darkness, when I lay alone under the blanket, they came back, singing and taunting. It was as if God wasn’t going to give me the peace of forgetting, as if He’d uncovered all the jagged edges of the past again.

 

The Roundheads had come here once more in 1644, so loud that we cowered in the house and prayed they wouldn’t come in and kill us. Leeds had been buffeted like a feather in the wind, from King to Parliament and back again so often, with more men dead each time.

But these troops stayed. It felt like a year of mud, when every colour was brown or black and the rains just came and came. The men in charge put up notices for everything – church attendance, how we had to behave, what we could wear. They forbade us from celebrating the birth of our Lord in the old way. That was sinful, they told us.

We’d been poor before, desperate for every penny and every bite. But now they took all our joy, too. Snow fell to herald the start of 1645, only the pikemen with their shining leather boots and glittering weapons allowed on the streets after dark.

We tried to make ourselves into mice, scurrying unnoticed lest the cat see us and pounce. Sometimes they’d come and drag one of the menfolk away with accusations of supporting the king. If he ever came home again it was as someone broken and quiet.

I feared for my husband. He’d been a clerk to lawyer Bolton before the attorney had fled. Now Bolton’s grand house on Briggate was a ruin, a burned-out gap in the street and there was a fine waiting against his name if he returned. I kept thinking they’d arrived one day and take Roger off.

He had no work. No one needed a man who knew his letters. The law was whatever the soldiers said, not something to be argued in a courtroom or written into books. And the cloth trade had dwindled so far that even some of the merchants went hungry. Once it would have been a marvel to see a grand man begging his bread. Now it happened every day.

We had three girls to feed, Alice, Hannah and Anne. They often went hungry, but we gave them something before we took anything to eat ourselves. When Alice woke one night in March, moaning with pain, at first I thought it was nothing more than an empty belly.

“Hush, love,” I whispered. “Just go back to sleep now.”

But she didn’t stop.

“It hurts, mama.”

I knelt by the bed she shared with her sisters, no more than a sheet over withered old straw. Her skin was so hot I thought it could burn my fingers and her shift was soaked with sweat. I bathed her face with cold water and stroked her damp hair, softly singing every lullaby I could remember. And I prayed. The first of so many prayers to rise from Leeds that year, but God blocked His ear to them all.

By morning she was cold, shaking and shivering. Nothing I did could help. I sent Roger to fetch the wise woman who lived on Kirkgate. She looked, poking my beautiful little girl with her fingers so that she gave a scream as deep as Christ’s agony.

Outside, where a bitter breeze came out of the west, the woman put her arms on my shoulders and looked at me with wise, ancient eyes.

“Your daughter has the pestilence,” she said softly.

I opened my mouth. I wanted to scream no, to shout, to cry, but nothing came. All I could think was why was He judging her like this? What had she done? She was only eleven, she had no evil to her name.

“I’ll bring something in a little while,” the woman continued. “It’ll help her rest and ease the pain a little.” Then she was gone and I stood out there, alone as the cold whipped around me.

The word passed quickly, as if the wind had carried it around the town. The soldiers’ doctor arrived in his neat, clean uniform to examine her, then shake his head. A pair of troopers were placed outside our door to force folk away. We were kept inside. Roger tried to amuse Hannah and Anne, to distract them, while I tended to Alice. The wise woman delivered her glass bottle, something clear and sweet-smelling inside, and it worked. My beautiful girl slept. Little Alice Musgrave with plague in her head. But it was on her body, the lumps growing so quickly under her arms and between her legs, the stink growing stronger with every hour, as if death was consuming her inch by inch.

The army left food outside our door, kindling and blankets. For the first time in a year we could have lived like human beings if we’d wanted. But who could have an appetite with this? I tried to keep Alice warm when the cold racked her, hugging her close to give her my heat. Weariness pierced all through my bones but I couldn’t sleep. I only had hours left with my daughter and I couldn’t let any moment of them slip away.

I heard later that they held a service in St. John’s to pray for her. For her soul and her salvation. What good is that when the Lord has turned away, I wanted to shout? But I never said a word.

After a day she’d moved beyond speech, only able to make noise like a baby, each one full of pain and fright. Her swellings turned black, the change coming in the blink of an eye. I kept hold of her hand, letting her know that we loved her. All I wanted now was for her suffering to end.

Alice lasted until the shank of the day. She wasn’t fighting, not even aware, just waiting. Then she gulped in a breath and it was over. I sat, still clutching her fingers and felt life leave her.

 

They took her body away quickly, the first to go into a plague pit. No coffin, no more than a winding sheet and a covering of quicklime. They wouldn’t even let us go to watch her being placed in the earth. All we were allowed were the four walls of our room and a heaven full of sorrow in our hearts.

Two mornings later it was Roger who began to sweat and by dinner Hannah was ill. I tended to them as best I could, moving like a ghost from one to the other as Anne became a silent, frightened child in the corner, too scared to move in case death might catch her.

I hadn’t had any time to grieve for my Alice when the others fell ill. All I could do was exist, snatch rest when I could, lying next to a body with the stench of decay, waking to another scream or a moan.

At least it was quick, less than a day each. And then it was just Anne and I, waiting and wondering how long before it came for us, too.

But it never did. After a week I walked outside. People talked and went about their business, trying to pretend nothing had happened, that Alice and Roger and Hannah were still alive. Yet I could see the terror in their eyes and the way they shunned me, as if I carried the pestilence like a shadow around me. Then I heard the rhyme for the first time, a group of children playing down the road, throwing a ball from one to the other. Little Alice Musgrave, lying in her bed. I ran towards them screaming and saw them scatter in surprise. My arm caught one boy and I started to hit him over and over as the tears tumbled down my cheeks.

Spring came, sunny, bright and fertile to mock us all. I knew what it meant. With the warm weather the plague would remain. While others held their Bibles close, I prayed it would take me and Anne, that it would lift the weight in our hearts. Each week there’d be fewer faces I knew on the streets. More than one thousand three hundred were buried before the winter turned cold again and the appetite of the pestilence was sated. But death kept denying me.

 

The soldiers left in the end. I’d lost track of how long they stayed; sometimes it seemed as if they’d always been there. Now the years have passed and we have a king again in London; that’s what they say. It makes little difference to our life in Leeds.

All the houses that were destroyed have been rebuilt. Maybe they’re even grander than they were before, I can’t remember. My Anne is married now, with a girl of her own. She had one before, but little Alice died when she was no more than a month old. I’d tried to tell her it was a fated name, but she wouldn’t listen to me.

I play with Emily, take her to the market and down to the river where men sell the fish they catch. I live with them, accompany them to church on a Sunday, but all I pray for now is to forget.

Ballad Of A Dead Man

A recent discussion with a friend about Fearn’s Island – a place that surprisingly still exists in Leeds, brought this to mind. It’s a short story that appeared in Leeds, The Biography, about the only Lord of the Manor in Leeds who was executed for murder in 1749.

fearns island

Tomorrow they’ll take me from this place in chains and hang me. From my cell I can see them polishing up the mourning coach that will transport me to the gallows at the Knavesmire. I’ve been a Leeds man all my life and they won’t allow me to end it there, the cowards.

But I declare that I, Josiah Fearne, Lord of the Manor of Leeds, am an innocent man. I’ll shout it. I’ll scream it. I killed Thomas Graves, but all I did was in self-defence.

Seven hours the trial took, and no more than a few minutes for the jury at York Castle to reach their verdict. And no matter how I yell injustice, no one will listen. So I must write down my account in the hope that it will clear the good name I own.

My father was a clothier. He had no fine start in life, but he was prudent, putting money aside and investing it wisely. When he died, he owned properties all over Mabgate and Woodhouse, and two more near the top of Briggate, close by the market cross, and I made my home in one of them.

I executed his will, and it was clear. Much went to my mother, to be passed to my sisters, and a little to myself – one of the houses in Mabgate and the place where I dwelt. For my older brother, Nehemiah? £50 and a paddock in Burmantofts. No more than that, which tells you what he thought of the wastrel.

I made my living as a drysalter, selling flax and hemp, cochineal and potash, the things people needed. A fair living it was, but there were those who resented me, who thought I’d come by the little wealth that I possessed too easily. They’d raise my ire and challenge me. How can a man back down from that and still think himself a man? There was Joseph Metcalfe for one, who taunted and insulted until I hit him. Then he ran to the night watch and claimed to be in fear of his life. A fine that cost me when it came to court.

I married, to Sarah Dunwell, whose father owned half of Nether Mills, the fulling mill that lies where Sheepscar Beck meets the Aire. He’d worked there a long time, knew the place in and out. It earned a goodly sum, enough to support the family in handsome style. But old man Dunwell had died, then one of Sarah’s sisters and brothers died, so that half the mill fell to my wife. But her mother, the old bitch, refused to give it up, no matter what the law said. The only way she’d agree was if I bought her an estate worth £500, enough to give her more than she could spend. Aye, and for her to tell everyone she’d put one over on Josiah Fearns.

I paid the money, and it was worth every penny to be rid of her, because along with it came more properties around Quarry Hill and Burmantofts.

We had children, three of them. The first, my boy Josiah, died quick enough, called by the Lord. But then there was John and his sister Sarah. And when my own sister died, all her wealth passed to my John, with me to look after it until he was of age.

The bloody corporation, the ones who ran Leeds, they had no time for me. They were merchants, full of fancy clothes and fine words, their noses high in the air. I was no more than the son of clothier, someone who’d come up in the world by his own wit and toil.

‘You’re an uncouth man, sir,’ one of them told me. All because I’d earned my money and wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty. I spoke as I found and that offended those who considered themselves refined. I’d been in court, and my brother, now a woolstapler, had, too. We were too rough and ready for their tastes. But I knew I’d have my revenge on them.

My wife, my lovely Sarah, died in 1731, and my daughter three years after. I couldn’t bear to live in the house where I’d abided with them and rented it out, moving to a place close to the mill. I bought property cannily, and the mill itself was rated at £150 per annum. Only the King’s Mill was valued higher.

They tried to do me down, those who ran things. Twice I was in court for assault, fined sixpence on the first occasion, not guilty on the second, when a jury wasn’t taken in by the lies. There were others – conflicts with my brother Nehemiah, who’d managed to spend his way through his inheritance and thought I owed him a living, and Benjamin Winn, who believed he could insult my honour with impunity.

And then, finally, in 1738, I made sure those on the Corporation couldn’t ignore me. John Cookson put his share of the manor up for sale and I bought it. I had the money and it was worth every farthing. I owned one-ninth of the manor, and folk had to call me Lord of the Manor of Leeds. I’d done my father proud.

Still they tried to do me down. Where all the other owners were called Esquire in the minutes, my name was plain Mister. No matter. They bloody well knew who I was.

I had Tom Grave running Nether Mills for me, just as he did for the other owner, Mr. Greaves. He lived in the house there, it was part of his pay.

But I was an owner who kept up on things. Tom Grave should have known that. He seemed to think he could slip this and that by me, the way he did with Greaves. As soon as I saw it in the accounts, I sacked him and brought in John Crosland, a man I could trust. And I made sure he had half the house where Graves and his family lived. He had a right to it as part of his job.

It all came to a head on Friday, February 24th, 1749. I believed Graves was stealing from the mill to line his pockets and I went to the house to confront him. I’d had a little to drink, but what else should a man do of a night?

He wasn’t there, but that mouse of a wife he had tried to make me leave, the little shrew. I went, but I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I had it out with Tom Grave. When I went back again, he was there.

He’ll have you believe he was meek and mild, leading me out by the hand, importuning me to leave, and helping me up when I fell, insensible from the drink.

Lies! All bloody lies!

He was the one who threw me down and threatened me. Anyone who’s seen him knows he’s a brute of a man with the strength of two or three. When he threatened to toss me in the mill stream, I believed him. It runs fast and hard, and anyone falling in there is certain to die. When he picked me up again and told me what he was going to do, I feared for my life. He had the glint of murder in his eye. I took my knife and stabbed him as any man would who feared for his safety. And then I went home, to my bed.

They say in court that I was the one who’d threatened him before, but, before the Lord, there’s nothing to believe in those accusations.

Tom Grave died on March 2nd. The day before he gave his statement and damned me in it, the liar.

At two o’clock on the morning of February 25th the night watch came hammering at my door to arrest me and take me before Mayor Scott. I swear the man was smiling as he ordered me to gaol in York Castle. Then, after Grave died and they held the inquest on him, the charge was murder.

The witnesses colluded. They had to do that, so their stories all fit together against me. And they told them in court, their faces straight in court as they all told their lies.

After that, the jury made their verdict and the ballad makers sent out their broadsheets to sell with the tale and the song.

Aye, the grand men in Leeds will be happy now, and happier still when I’m doing Jack Ketch’s dance in the morning at the end of a rope. But they’ll not forget the name of Josiah Fearns.

 

Josiah Fearns should be better known. After all, he was the only Lord of the Manor of Leeds to be executed for murder. At the time it was a sensation and the proceedings of the trial were published. But for all that, it’s largely vanished from history, and the man called the ‘domineering, villainous Lord of the Manor’ vanished. But, as far as we know, it happens as stated here, although the witnesses called in Fearns’ defence told a very different, largely unbelievable story. I’m grateful to Margaret Pullen’s excellent piece, Josiah Fearns: A Villainous Lord of the Manor of Leeds, published in the Second Series, Volume 24 of the Thoresby Society.

Chance Encounter – An Annabelle Harper Story

You all know that The Leaden Heart has been out for a week and a half. Very soon it’ll be available everywhere as an e-book, and a little later published in the US in hardback. I’m proud of it. It’s a bloody good book.

But I still thought you might like a bit more of Annabelle Harper and that compassion she has.

Leeds, 1896

Annabelle Harper had gone five paces past the man before she stopped. There were beggars everywhere in Leeds, as common as shadows along the street. But something about this face flickered in her mind and lit up a memory. He was despondent, at his wits’ end, but unlike so many, he wasn’t trying to become invisible against the stones, to disappear into the fabric of the city. He might not like he was happy about it, but the man was very much alive. She stopped abruptly, turned on her heel in a swish of crinoline and marched back until she was standing over him, shopping bags dangling from her hands. It was the last day February, a sun shining that almost felt like spring.

‘You, you’re Tommy Doohan, aren’t you?’

Very slowly, as if it was a great effort, he raised his head. He’d been staring down at the pavement between his legs.

‘I am,’ he answered. His voice was weary, a broad Leeds accent with just the smallest hint of Ireland, easy to miss unless you were familiar it. He stared up at her, baffled, with his one good eye, the other no more than a small, dark cavern above his cheek. ‘And who might you be? You don’t look familiar.’

‘Annabelle Harper,’ the woman replied. ‘Annabelle Feeney, when you knew me. Back on Leather Street where we were little.’

His smile was weak. He looked as if the entire weight of the city had pressed down on him and left him small and broken. It had dropped him in this spot

‘That was a long time ago.’

His suit had probably been reasonably smart once. Good, heavy wool, but the black colour had turned dusty and gritty from sitting so long. Cuffs and trouser hems frayed, threads hanging to the ground. Up close, she could see the grime on his shirt, no collar, no tie. The shine had long vanished from his shoes. He was bare-headed, his hair dark, growing wild and unruly. His cap sat upside-down between his thighs. In a rough, awkward attempt at copperplate, the cardboard sign propped against it read: But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.

‘Luke,’ she said. ‘Chapter eleven, verse forty-one.’ Annabelle grinned. They’d been in the same class at Mount St. Mary’s School. ‘The nuns must have rapped my knuckles a dozen times over that one. Sister Marguerite would be happy it finally stuck.’

‘Ah, me as well. Twenty times, at least. But they’d have a harder time doing that now.’ He held up his right arm, the hand missing two fingers and the thumb.

Annabelle took a slow, deep breath.

‘My God, Tommy, what happened?’

‘Just a little fight with a machine,’ he said wryly. ‘I think I won, though. You should have seen the machine when we finished.’

‘How can you-’ she began, then closed her mouth. She knew the answer deep in her bones. You laughed about it to stop the pain. You joked, because if you didn’t you’d fall off the world and never find your way back. ‘Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of tea.’

‘I can’t let a woman pay for me.’

She dropped the bags and stood, hands on her hips, face set.

‘You can and you will, Tommy Doohan. Get off your high horse. You’d have been happy enough if I’d put a tanner in your cap. Now, get on your feet.’ She looked up and down New Briggate. ‘There’s a place over there, across from the Grand. And I’m not taking no for an answer.’

Briggate 1880

For a moment he didn’t move. But her voice had a razor edge, and he pushed himself to his feet, scooping a couple of pennies and farthing from the cap before he jammed it on his head.

He was tall, towering a good nine inches above her. Close to, he smelt of dirt and decay, as if he might be dying from the inside.

‘I’d carry your bags for you, but one of the paws doesn’t work so well.’

‘Give over,’ she told him, and his mouth twitched into a real smile.

 

He cradled the mug, as if he was relishing the warmth, only letting go to eat the toasted teacake she’d ordered for him. When he was done, he wiped the butter from his mouth with the back of a grimy hand, then felt in his pocket for a tab end.

They’d been silent, but now Annabelle said: ‘Go on, Tommy, what happened to you?’

‘When I was sixteen, I headed over to Manchester to try my luck. Me and my brother Donald, do you remember him?’

She had the faint image of someone a little older, tousle-haired and laughing.

‘What could you do there that you couldn’t here?’

‘It was different, wasn’t it?’ he said bitterly. ‘I’d been a mechanic down at Black Dog Mill, I could fix things, and Don, well, he was jack of all trades.’ He smoked, then stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray in quick jabs. ‘We did all right, I suppose. One of the cotton mills there took him on, made him a foreman, earning fair money.’

‘What about you?’

‘Down at the docks. Long hours, but it was a decent wage. Lots of machines to look after. I met a lass, got wed, had ourselves a couple of kiddies.’

‘I’ve got one, too. A little girl.’

Doohan cocked his head.

‘What does your husband do? You look well off.’

‘You’ll never credit it.’ She laughed. ‘He’s a bobby. A detective. And I own a pub. The Victoria down in Sheepscar.’

He let out a low whistle.

‘You’ve turned into a rich woman.’

‘We get by,’ Annabelle said. ‘Anyway, what about your family?’

‘Gone,’ he told her bleakly. ‘About two years back I was working on this crane, you know, hauling stuff out of the boats. The mechanism has jammed. I almost had it fixed when the cable broke. It’s as thick as your arm, made from metal strands. Took the fingers before I even knew it, and a piece flew off into my eye.’ He shrugged. ‘I was in the hospital for a long time. Came out, no job. They told me that since I didn’t have two full hands, I wasn’t able to do the work any more. Goodbye, thank you, and slipped me two quid to see me on my way like I should be grateful.’

‘Where was your wife?’

‘Upped sticks and scarpered with my best mate as soon as someone told her I wasn’t going to be working. Took the children with her. I tried looking round for them for a long time, but I couldn’t find hide nor hair. Finally I thought I’d come back to Leeds. I might have a bit more luck here.’ He sighed. ‘You can see how that turned out. On me uppers on New Briggate. Begging to get a bed.’ He spat out the sentence.

‘Couldn’t your brother help?’ Annabelle asked.

‘Donald was married, and he and his brood had gone off to Liverpool. He has his own life, it wouldn’t be fair. Me mam and dad are dead, but there are a few relatives who slip me a little something.’

She stayed silent for a long time, twisting the wedding ring back and forth around her finger.

‘How long did you work at all this?’

‘Seventeen years,’ Doohan said with pride. ‘Ended up a supervisor before…’ He didn’t need to say more.

‘Do you know Hope Foundry? Down on Mabgate?’

‘I think I’ve seen it. Why?’

‘Fred Hope, one of the owners, he drinks in the pub. He was just saying the other day that he’s looking for engineering people. You know, to run things.’

Doohan raised his right arm with its missing fingers to his empty eye.

‘You’re forgetting these.’

‘No, I’m not. You’ve got a left hand. And your brain still works, doesn’t it?’

‘Course it does,’ he answered.

‘Then pop in and see him tomorrow. Tell him I suggested it.’

‘Are you serious about this?’

‘What do you think?’

‘He’ll say no. They always do.’

‘Happen he won’t. Fred has a good head on his shoulders. He can see more than a lot of people.’ Annabelle opened her purse and pulled out two one-pound notes. ‘Here. It’s a loan,’ she warned him. ‘Just so you can get yourself cleaned up and somewhere decent to sleep. Some food in you.’

‘I can’t.’

She pressed the money into his palm.

‘There’s no saintliness in being hungry and kipping on a bench,’ she hissed. ‘Take it.’

He closed his fingers around the paper.

‘I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I’ll pay you back.’

‘You will,’ she agreed. ‘I know where you’ll be working. And your boss is a friend of mine. Now you’d better get a move on, before the shops shut.’

‘What about…?’ He gestured at the table.

‘Call it my treat. Now, go on. Off with you.’

At the door he turned back, grinning. He seemed very solid, filling the space.

‘Is this what they mean by the old school tie?’

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More Old Leeds Footage (And A Leaden Heart Update)

As you all know by now, The Leaden Heart was published last Friday. However…if you’ve been trying to buy the hardback online, you may well have found a problem. There’s been a glitch with the wholesaler that supplies online retailers and the book is showing as not available. I’m told this should be fixed by the end of the week, so please be patient, and I thank you. That said, a bricks-and-mortar bookshop will be able to get you a copy, as it’s a different distributor. If you’ve already bought it or reserved it at the library, thank you so much. But please may I ask one more favour – cheeky, I know. Could you write a review of it somewhere, please. Reviews really do help. They’re the best word-of-mouth advertising.

 

Meanwhile, the old footage of Leeds that I’ve posted here and there has proved very popular, so here are a couple more pieces. Nothing quite as ancient, sadly, but the first piece was still filmed more than a century ago. A very large group of Special Constables in the early stages of training in Leeds during World War I. I watched this and then realised that my grandfather is probable among them. His eyesight was too poor for the army, so he became a Special instead.

The second piece seems to be mostly from the 1930s. The focus is far from perfect, but tre’s a royal visit in there, probably to open the new Civic Hall in 1933, and footage of City Square and the building of the new Queen’s Hotel.

Be glad that these glimpses into the history of our city, our own past, are available.

And I’ll finish with this, from the Yorkshire Post.

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In Praise Of Libraries (And Buying Books)

Two more days. Two more days and The Leaden Heart will be out in the world. I’m thrilled by the reviews it’s been receiving – you can get an idea by scrolling down here – and by the publicity, especially the interview in the Morning Star.

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Now it’s all down to you.

The bottom line is always sales. Publishing is a business, so how could it revolve around anything else? The problem is that these books aren’t cheap. I know that. Believe me, I know that.

I’m hugely grateful to everyone who buys a copy, but I also know that many can’t afford it (however, if you do buy it, please remember that buying from a bricks-and-mortar shop helps keep them in business, and they’ll see the sale and order in another copy of two).

There is an answer. Borrow it from the library. Reserve The Leaden Heart, ask your library to order it; most will be very willing to do that. It costs you nothing – at most a small reservation fee – and out of that you and plenty of others will be able to read the book. The publisher notches up a sale, which counts towards my royalties. On top of that, in the UK, authors receive a small amount every time someone borrows one of our books. Totalled up, it’s not a fortune, but everything helps. Being a writer is a precarious business.

Also, if you read the book, I’d be grateful if you left a review somewhere. Goodreads, for instance, if you’re on there. Or even the Amazon site; you don’t need to buy the book from them. The more reviews a book receives, the more the site will suggest it. Reviews get the ball rolling, so thank you to all who reviews. Small things can make huge differences.

And now, time to let this baby out into the world. I truly hope you’ll enjoy it.

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More Old Leeds On Film – And Big, Big News

The old film footage of Leeds that I posted last week proved very popular – astonishingly so. It certainly sent me scurrying around to discover more from 1899, the time of The Leaden Heart (which is published in the UK next week, as you probably know by now).

But before that, I have two big pieces of new. I mean, really BIG. The first is that I’m really proud to have had my first interview in a national daily newspaper, the Morning Star. I hope you’ll read it right here. Or, if you prefer…here it is.

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On to the films.

I did manage to turn up a couple of pieces. The first one, seemingly filmed around what would become City Square, might be slow, but it’s worthwhile to see all the carts and wagons. Almost everything relied on horses. That would change, and eventually that change would seem rapid, almost overnight. But for the next 10-15 years, a motor car or motor bus on the road would remain a rarity.

The real gem of the pair, though, is this piece about the Leeds fire Brigade. They were still part of the police in those days – Tom Harper’s old friend and colleague Billy Reed had become a fireman before moving to Whitby to be Police Inspector there – although the uniform was quite different. It’s glorious to see the engine dashing out of the headquarters on Park Row, with the children running behind.

The most interesting part comes a little later, however, the procession of men with their sandwich boards, sent out to advertise performances at three and eight pm. The Sheldon at the top of each board meant the board itself belonged to Edward Sheldon, one of the first great advertising contractors. Sandwich boards were a common form of advertising in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Take a look at the mens’ faces. There’s no pleasure, no joy to be seen there. It was the kind of job a man took when there was nothing else he could get, the work of desperation. Look again, and that resignation is right there in their eyes. It transmits itself across the years.

Also of interest is this image of Albion Place at the junction of Albion Street, courtesy of Anna Goodridge at the Leeds Library. It shows the shop of Beck and Inchbold, Stationers on the corner. The shop in a jeweller now. There’s also an invoice, with a telephone number – 140 – an indication of just how new the service still was back then. Like the motor car, like moving pictures, the telephone was progress as Leeds approached the 20th century.

It was still a city of industry, but everything was changing. That’s what I’ve tried to capture in this book. New crimes, ready for a new century.

And with that, it’s time for the second massive piece of news. Even as this book comes out, I can tell you that the sequel, the eight Tom Harper book, will come out at the end of March 2020. It’s called Rusted Souls, and it’s set in 1908, against the backdrop of the so-called Suffragette Riot of October 10, when the Prime Minister visited Leeds. It will also mark 10 years of my publishing novels set in this glorious place.

But meanwhile….

The Leaden Heart. It’s a world of Victorian Industrial Noir. Try it. Out March 29.