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.

scan0004

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.

Tales Within A Tale 5 – John Laycock

Now it’s just two months until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, the third with Miss Worthy here, and the fourth with Barbabas Tooms here.

And, of course, you can read about Skin Like Silver here.

Like what you see? Order your copy here (this is currently the cheapest price by far!).

3226664835

This time is the landlord of the Royal Inn on South Accommodation Road in Hunslet. In the book he’s not named. In my head he is – John Laycock. He was the landlord at the time, just arrived in Leeds. How do I know? He was my maternal great-grandfather. Around 1920 he moved to take over the Victoria on Roundhay Road, Annabelle’s put in the books, and stayed there until sometime in World War II. That’s a good five decades as a pub landlord..

He stacked one crate of bottles on top of another in the cellar, followed by the third and a fourth. Never too much call for the stuff, and why would there be when there were barrels of beer around?

John Laycock stood and stretched. From somewhere up above here heard the squall of a baby. At least Elizabeth had a healthy pair of lungs on here. God alone knew she’d need it to survive in Hunslet with all the factories and mills around.

He thought he’d landed on his feet, arrived from Barnsley and offer a job as the landlord of the Royal Inn. Just twenty-three, young for a job like that. More than a job, really. A home. Rooms upstairs and soon part of the area. After a year he knew all the locals, he and the family had become part of the fabric of the area.

The people were all reet. Same as folk anywhere. The wife had made some friends. Course, there were always a few…especially when they had a bit of drink in them. But he was a big lad, he could handle them if they got stroppy. It was one of the reasons they’ve given him the position. That and the fact he had a quick mind, able to do sums in his head. Coming up to Leeds when his wife had the babby inside her had been a gamble but it had paid off nicely.

Upstairs, he inspected the brasses and checked the woodwork was polished. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered. An hour after the men started coming in and everything would be grimy again. All the dust and dirt of the steel works in every bloody nook and cranny.

But you kept up appearances. You make it all look neat and cared-for. Even if no one ever noticed. His man had drummed that into him. So, each morning, the servants took care of that right after their breakfast.

‘John.’ Jane’s voice carried down the stairs. If she had a mood on her it could carry halfway across Yorkshire.

‘What?’

‘I think there’s a blockage in the chimney. The fire’s not drawing properly.’

‘I’ll come and take a look in a minute.’ He sighed. If it wasn’t one thing it was another.

Tales Within A Tale 2

Four months until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here.

This time it’s Robert Carr

And you can read more about Skin Like Silver, of course.

Samuel-Kent-214366

Three places were laid at the table, cutlery gleaming, glasses shining in the gaslight from the sconces. But only two men were sitting and eating.

‘Why?’ The younger man tilted his knife towards the empty plate across from him. ‘For God’s sake, father, she’s been gone two months now. It seems desperate.’

Robert Carr look down his nose. He was balding, the long mutton chop whiskers thicker than the hair that remained on the top of his head. The two sticks on the floor by his chair helped him walk. But his mind was still sharp.

‘You think what you like, Neville.’ There was a whip edge to his voice. ‘But it’s my house, I’ll do things as I choose.’

He began to chew some of the beef. It tasted stringy, cheap. Far too dry. Throwing down the knife and fork, he pushed the meal away and took a sip of whisky.

‘Not hungry?’

‘Bloody tasteless.’

The cook would never have served the meat like that when Catherine was here, he thought. She kept an eye on things. She knew. But then, she should; she knew just what the servants were like, she’d been one. He could still feel her in the house.

‘Mine’s fine,’ his son said.

Carr snorted. His son might be good at running the factory, but beyond that he was useless. Couldn’t keep his own boy in line. He’d heard the tales about the lad, the gambling and whoring. Carr might not get out much these days, but words reached him.

‘How’s the business this week?’ he asked.

‘A new order from the Army.’ Neville spoke with his mouth full. ‘Boots for India. It’s good money.’

‘A little extra gone to the right people.’

‘Of course, Father,’ he replied. ‘No need to worry about it. Everyone’s been taken care of. The next order’s in the bag, too.’

Robert had built up the business his father started on Meanwood Road. A few years before, he’d handed it to Neville. He’d trained his son well. Polite to the buyers, generous to those who placed the orders, firm with the men in the factory. It worked well. They made good money.

He had his house in Chapel Allerton, Neville his own close by. His son also had the mistress he kept in Headingley. An actress, of all things. No imagination. Not even a good actress, by all accounts. He hoped she played well in bed.

The Empire kept Carr & Sons in business. Boots for troops in all the colonies, and God knew there were plenty of them. Long may it continue.

Neville had cleared his plate, sitting back and drinking his wine.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said. ‘We ought to start making boots for working men.’

The old man shook his head.

‘Don’t be so daft. The market’s sewn up. You’d be trying to break in. We do what we do. Don’t rock the bloody boat.’

‘I was just trying-’

‘Don’t,’ Carr warned.

‘You’ve had an edge on you since she left.’

‘She’ll be back. I told you.’

Of course she would. She’d come to her senses soon enough. He’d make her pay for it, and he’d keep reminding her, but he’d have her back. Stupid, he knew that. Weak. She’d made her decision to leave all this. Money, everything she could want. He’d tried to stop her. Beaten her. But she’d gone.

He glanced over at his son. A weak man. A drunken one now, to judge from the dull glint in his eyes.

‘I told you not to marry a servant. It’s like a novelette. But reality was less successful, wasn’t it?’

‘Shut up, Neville,’ he warned.

‘Sometimes I wonder which was stronger, her love of this ridiculous suffragism or her hatred of you?’

‘You’d better stop now,’ Carr told him as he reached down for a stick. ‘Right now.’

Another Day

Well, the global streamed launch for Two Bronze Pennies is two days away, and this is your final reminder (promiise!). All you need to do is click  https://www.concertwindow.com/89118-chris-nickson   to take part. No registration, no pack drill. 6 pm Sunday UK time, 1 pm Eastern US, 10 am West Coast, 7 or 8 pm in Europe. I hope you’ll log in, even if it’s just for five minutes – it’ll only be about 45 minutes in total.

To sweeten the deal, and try to persuade you, I’m going to tempt you with a brand new Tom Harper story. Can’t say fairer than that, can I? Call it something for the long weekend – and please, enjoy.

He finally found the woman at half-past five on a cold November evening. She was sitting on the pavement, knees clasped against her chest like a small child. Right there on Briggate, in the very centre of Leeds, people moved around her without noticing, without caring, just an impediment as they made their way home.

Detective Inspector Tom Harper bent down next to her.

‘Ada?’ he asked and she turned her head slowly, as if she’d been off and away, thinking of other things.

‘Hello luv,’ she said. ‘Do I know you?’

‘No,’ he told her with a smile, ‘but everyone’s been looking for you. Do you think you can stand up?’

It had started twelve hours before, when a woman had dashed out of her house off St. Peter’s Place. Not even light yet but she was yelling, ‘Mam! Mam! Where are you?’ until the copper on the beat came running.

‘You’ll have the whole street up,’ he told her. ‘What’s the matter? Where’s Ada gone?’

‘If I knew I wouldn’t be shouting for her, would I?’ She gave him a withering look and started to shiver. Just a thin dress with a shawl caught around her shoulders to keep out the winter cold. No stockings, just a pair of clogs on her bare feet. ‘I woke up and looked in on her and she’d gone.’

He looked at her. Constable Earnshaw had been fifteen years on the force, the last five of them around here. It was a poor area, no more than a loud shout from the nick down at Millgarth. Filled with rooming houses, the Mission, a run-down Turkish bathhouse in among the back-to-backs. Too many people crammed into houses that needed to be torn down. But it was what they could afford.

‘Outhouse?’ he asked.

‘I already looked,’ Millie Walker told him. She shook her head, wrapped her arms around herself, trying not to cry. ‘She’s gone again.’

The first time had been the year before. Ada Taylor was old, half-blind, spending more hours lost in the past than she did in the present. She talked to her husband, dead for nigh on twenty years, as if she could see him right there in the room, and to Dollie, Millie’s younger sister who hadn’t lived past the age of eight. Sometimes she was fine, making as much sense as anyone, cackling with the other women who gathered on the doorsteps and gossiped. But when her mind slipped, no one knew how long before it would return. Or even if it would come back.

Everyone in the area kept an eye out for her, leading her back home if she began to wander. One day, though, she managed to just disappear, gone for an hour as people searched, until they found her down by Marsh Lane, standing and talking to someone that no other person could see, calling him granddad, listening to the answers only she could hear.

There’d been two other occasions since. Once at the start of spring, when someone finally spotted her over on Kirkgate, so soaked after a heavy shower of rain that Millie was scared her mother would take a chill and die. Then in the summer when she ended up on the river bank – and God only knew how she’d walked so far with bad knees and swollen ankles – just sitting with her legs dangling and smiling up at the blue sky.

This time, though, there was no telling how long she’d been gone.

‘I felt the sheets in her bed,’ Millie said, ‘and they were cold. Like ice.’ She was trying to keep her face steady and her voice strong. The weather had been bitter the last few days, she could almost taste the snow in the air, along with all the soot and the stink.

‘You get the people out around here,’ Earnshaw told her. ‘Go all around. I’ll get the bobbies out.’ He waited until she gave him a short nod then turned on his heel and dashed away.

Harper was at the station just before the shift changed at six. All the night men looking ready for their beds, faces red with the cold. And the ones on days looking glum at the idea of twelve hours out in the weather.

‘Sir?’

He looked up, setting aside the report he was writing.

‘Morning, Victor. Time to go home for you, isn’t it?’

They knew each other; Earnshaw had shown him some of the ropes when he’d been a recruit, in the days when he’d been too eager to please and believed everything anyone told him. The older man had helped him quickly rub off some of the green and give him an edge.

‘Not this morning, sir. I’ve got something. And old woman who’s vanished in the night. She’s a bit, well, you know.’

‘How long’s she been gone?’

‘Anytime up to eight hours, sir. That’s the problem. She’s done it before, an’ all.’ He explained quickly, giving a short description of the woman. ‘I thought I’d go back and help out if I can.’

‘What do you need?’

‘I know you get out and about. If you can pass the word, please, sir. I’ve let Sergeant Tollman know. Everyone’s going to be watching for her.’

‘I will,’ Harper promised.

‘Bless you, sir. A few of the lads are going to come with me. Happen we’ll find her soon.’

By dinnertime there was no sign of her.

Harper had had a full morning trying to track a thief who’d broken into at least twenty houses. He had the man’s name, but he’d gone to ground somewhere, nowhere to be found. It was a time to go around the pubs and corners, to ask his quiet questions and mention Ada Taylor as he was leaving. Half the men he talked to couldn’t care – they could trip over her and not give a damn – but others nodded with serious eyes. They their mams and their nanas.

To mke it worse, he was working alone; Sergeant Reed was in court, giving evidence in a fraud case and likely to be there all day and half the next.

At three the word reached him. The man he wanted was hiding in an empty cellar on Commercial Street. Sold out for three shillings, and the inspector paid it gladly.

The only way in was a set of steps off Packhorse Yard. At the top he took a deep breath and moved as quietly as possible, keeping one hand against the wall to steady himself. Under his boots he could feel the stone, greasy and slick. One slip and he’d tumble all the way down.

The door at the bottom was pulled to, but gave when he pushed lightly on it. The day was already near dusk, the light dim. Inside it would be black.

God alone knew what the man had in there to protect himself. And all detectives carried were their police whistles. It was going to be bluff.

With a kick, he rattled the door back off the wall.

‘Police, Jem.’ He let his voice ring out. ‘I’ve got three coppers out here who are cold and angry. They wouldn’t mind warming themselves up on you. It’s your choice.’

If he’d been given the wrong information he’d look a right bloody fool. And he’d be getting his money back from someone, no mistake on that.

He waited, flexing his hands into fists. Ready. Harper knew his hearing was poor, all down to a blow six years before. The man could be creeping across the floor right now and he might not even know it.

Then the face was there in the doorway. Dirty, hair ragged, a weeping sore filling one cheek. The inspector grabbed him, turned the man against the wall and snapped on the handcuffs on tight.

One thing done, at least.

Writing out the report took an hour, but at least there was a good coal fire burning in the office. No sign of Ada Taylor, though. The word that she was still missing had rippled through the station. He could only imagine the thoughts going through her daughter’s mind.

Ten past five and the door opened suddenly, Tollman peering through.

‘Disturbance, sir. Corner of Briggate and Boar Lane. Sounds like they need all the help they can get.’

Harper ran, panting, but it was still three full minutes to reach the scene. Traffic was stopped, omnibuses, carts, and trams all one behind the other. There had to be fifteen coppers already there, truncheons out, herding two groups of youths apart and cracking a head or two. All over bar the shouting and the arrests.

In the November darkness it was time to call it a night. And that was when he saw Ada Taylor.

He helped her up. She was cold, shaky, but she could shuffle along if she clung tight to his arm.

‘You’re like Bert,’ she told him with a coy expression. For a moment the years parted and he could see the pretty young girl she’d been so long ago. ‘You should have seen Bert. He was good-looking, too. I should never have turned him away for Eddie. I’d have had handsome children then.’

The cocoa house was nearby. He helped her inside and bought her a cup, watching as she gazed around the place, not saying a word, drinking with dainty sips.

‘Come on, we’d better get you home,’ he said finally. ‘Your daughter must be beside herself with worry.’

‘I can see your fortune,’ Ada said. It came out of the blue and took him by surprise. The voice didn’t even sound like hers. It was darker, graver, something he couldn’t quite pinpoint. Her eyes seemed to be staring at something far away. ‘You’re never going to be a rich man unless you do one thing.’

He’d play along, he thought. Who knew what was going on inside her head?

‘What’s that?’ he asked.

But as quickly as it arrive, the moment passed. The confusion had returned to her face.

‘Who are you again?’ she asked, sounding like an old woman once more.

‘Someone who’s getting you home. There’s bound to be a hackney outside. You fancy a ride in that, Mrs. Taylor?’

It was the best part of seven o’clock before he climbed the stairs at the Victoria. A long day, but then they all were. Still, he had a thief ready to go to trial and there was someone back with her family. He’d experienced worse.

‘Tom?’ Annabelle called from the kitchen as he opened the door.

He walked in and put his arms around her.

‘Busy day?’ he asked.

‘No more than usual. You look all in.’ She stroked his hair.

‘It was interesting,’ he said. ‘I almost found out how to be rich.’

‘What?’ Her eyes widened. ‘Don’t be so daft. What on earth are you talking about?’

He smiled.

‘Honestly,’ he told here, ‘I wish I knew.’