A note on the historical sources used in The Hourglass Factory

While The Hourglass Factory is a work of fiction, there are several real life figures and events that formed the basis for particular parts of the book. I’d like to jot a few of them down along with the sources I read about them in, as it’s my great hope the story will pique a curiosity in some readers about this turbulent, shocking and inspiring time.

Ebony’s Albert Hall leap which opens the book was – as one of the other characters later notes – inspired by a suffragette named Isabel Kelley, who broke into Dundee’s Kinnaird Hall via a skylight during a political meeting from which women were barred. I read about this and many more of the suffragettes’ more radical activities in a book called The Militant Suffragettes (1973) by Antonia Raeburn. Other great suffragette reads are the Pankhurst sisters’ books, Unshackled: The Story of How We Won The Vote (1959) by Christabel Pankhurst, and The Suffragette Movement (1911) by E. Sylvia Pankhurst, which details the ghastly violence of Black Friday. Constance Lytton’s prison diary is available online – although I was privileged to hold the original at the National Archives – and describes not only her heroic attempts to expose the authorities’ double standards over treatment of women from different classes, but also gives a chilling verbatim account of force-feeding. I also consulted period newspaper sources and Votes For Women: The Virago Book of Suffragettes (2000) ed. Joyce Marlow, The Suffragettes In Pictures (1996) by Diane Atkinson, and Vindication: A Postcard History of the Woman’s Movement (1995) by Ian McDonald, all fantastic reads.

The character of Evelina Haverfield who features briefly was indeed alleged to have led police horses ‘out of their ranks’ as noted in several sources. I’d like to think she did this by charming them and making them sit, however it’s sadly doubtful this was the case. The male suffragette in the novel, William Reynolds, is inspired by a man named William Ball who went to prison and was force-fed for the women’s cause. The treatment of Ball was far more shocking than that of Reynolds, as is detailed in The Museum of London’s online records.

Frankie’s old society girl column co-author Twinkle, believe it or not, also has her roots in a real person – Catherine Walters aka Skittles, the last of the great Victorian Courtesans. I first read about her years ago in The Mammoth Book of Heroic and Outrageous Women (1999) ed. Gemma Alexander, which was incidentally also the first place I came across Emmeline Pankhurst (an excellent Christmas present for a teenage girl, thank you Auntie Ros).

For information relating to the work of Scotland Yard and the suffragettes I am grateful to the National Archives. For police history background I used the memoir At Scotland Yard: being the experience during twenty-seven years’ service by John Sweeney, late Detective Inspector, CID (1904), When I was at Scotland Yard by Chief Inspector James Berrett, (1932), Joan Lock’s Scotland Yard Casebook (1993), and The Police Code and General Manual of the Criminal Law, Fifteenth edition, (1912),by Sir Howard Vincent (revised by the commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis). I also particularly want to acknowledge William Thomas Ewens’ enthralling memoir Thirty Years At Bow Street Police Court (1924) from which I shamelessly poached the true story of the suffragette court riot which features in chapter eight.

As for corsets, Valerie Steele’s book, The Corset: A Cultural History (2001) was a great place to read about the history of these fascinating garments. And David Kunzle’s extraordinary Fashion & Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture (New ed 2004) was invaluable in helping me get my head round the paradoxical allure of subjugation and sexual liberation in corset fetishism.

As regards London, my deepest apologies to the denizens of the city I love so much for any inaccuracies of place or distance I might have thrown in. I spent three wonderful years living in London but for additional information on its history I am grateful to Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography (2000), Stephen Inwood’s A History of London (1998) and probably the most enjoyable read of all my research, Judith Summers’s firecracker of a book, Soho: A History of London’s Most Colourful Neighbourhood (1989).

Female journalists were not uncommon during the era, as I discovered from Elizabeth L. Banks’s Autobiography of a Newspaper Girl (1902) and Michelle Elizabeth Tusan’s Women Making News: Gender and Journalism in Modern Britain (2005), (and from those indefatigable bastions of sexism, The ‘Ladies Pages’ in contemporary period newspapers to whose editors I must also express my gratitude). I read about the news agency tape machines and the anatomy of newspaper-making in Henry Leach’s Fleet Street from Within: The Romance and Mystery of the Daily Paper (1905) and about newspaper history in Dennis Griffiths’ Fleet Street: Five Hundred Years of the Press. Other books of great use were The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (1975) by Paul Thompson, and Edwardian Life and Leisure (1973) by Ronald Pearsall.

Richard Anthony Baker’s brilliant book British Music Hall: An Illustrated History (2005) introduced me to the National Vigilance Association, the history of the London Coliseum and the song ‘The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze’, and also The Great Lafayette’s remarkable stage trick, The Lion’s Bride.

Suffragettes were arrested and sent to prison for a wide range of arson activities in the early 20th century, although they always declared that their ethos was to hold human life sacred. It is true that some acts of arson, such as Gladys Evans setting fire to the Dublin Theatre during a visit from Asquith in 1912, would seem to contradict this; what is not clear is whether actions such as this were sanctioned by the WSPU in advance, or merely supported retrospectively in view of the fact that no one was hurt. The same goes for an alleged plot to assassinate the Prime Minister in 1909, attributed in the media to ‘suffragettes’ though never confirmed.