It’s a busy week on the blog this week – as well as Friday’s guest, we’ve got two extra joining us. In the hot seat today is Emma Rose Millar, co-author of Five Guns Blazing. Here she not only shares an extract and the blurb (there are buy links too at the end of the post) but also what inspired her to write it. First up, that extract…
We were separated, my mother and I in a most barbaric act; I was dragged screaming from her skirts, seized with a fit of panic, a horrible notion that I might never see her again, but my mother herself seemed to be trying almost to prise me from her.
“Pay no attention to him, Mrs Beedham,” said the matron brusquely. She set her lips and her jaw settled squarely. “We find most of the children react like this in the first place, but they soon get used to it. In fact, the crying stops mostly the minute they leave the room. There is a lot of camaraderie among the young boys, not always to be encouraged, I might add,” she continued, cutting a brief look at one of the gentlemen at the table, “but it prevents them from missing their parents too much we usually find.” She was a sturdy woman, whiskery and stern-faced with thick brown hair and a complexion as blotchy as white pudding. “Come along now, young sir. My goodness, what a fuss! There is no room for hysteria here; I could always take a strap to you if you wish.” Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen, Five Guns Blazing.
My grandfather was orphaned at the age of three and was sent with his two older brothers to one of the poor law schools in London. I grew up hearing stories about what conditions were like for the children there: tales of hunger and insufficient food, of my grandfather being forced to stand with his arms outstretched, holding two heavy boots. If he lowered his arms, he was beaten with a stick – this was the punishment handed down after he attempted to run away. Such institutions have always held a certain morbid fascination for me. My research into eighteenth-century workhouses for my novel Five Guns Blazing, was often harrowing, but in some way, it brought me closer to my beloved grandfather who sadly is no longer with us.
Children could be sent to the workhouse for a variety of reasons. Many were illegitimate, orphans, deserted children or children of felons. Once inside, children over seven years of age were usually separated from their mothers; parents were allowed daily interviews with their children. This usually depended upon the discretion of the guardians though, and there were no prescribed minimum lengths of time for parental interviews.
Strict rules were put in place for the treatment and punishment of children in workhouses and poor law schools, particularly in relation to corporal punishment:
- No child under twelve years of age shall be punished by confinement in a dark room or during the night.
- No corporal punishment shall be inflicted on any male child, except by the Schoolmaster or Master.
- No corporal punishment shall be inflicted on any female child.
- No corporal punishment shall be inflicted on any male child, except with a rod or other instrument, such as may have been approved of by the Guardians or the Visiting Committee.
- No corporal punishment shall be inflicted on any male child until two hours shall have elapsed from the commission of the offence for which such punishment is inflicted.
- Whenever any male child is punished by corporal correction, the Master and Schoolmaster shall (if possible) be both present.
- No male child shall be punished by flogging whose age may be reasonably supposed to exceed fourteen years.
There were numerous cases of children being treated even more cruelly however than these regulations allowed:
In 1894, The Times reported that:
“At a special sitting of the magistrates at the Brentwood Police-court, Ella Gillespie, aged 54, formerly nurse at the Hackney Training Schools, Brentwood, was charged with having on various dates between the months of April and October, 1893, wilfully ill-treated and exposed several children as to cause them unnecessary pain and suffering.
Clara Good, aged 13, deposed that in August last the prisoner knocked her head against the wall because she had been talking to another girl. Two days later witness had to go to the infirmary on account of her head. The prisoner had knocked witness’s head against the wall six or seven times prior to August last. In the spring of 1892, whilst witness and two other girls were scrubbing the nursery floor, the prisoner entered and knocked over two scuttles of coal. Then she turned over four pails of water, and rubbed witness’s head into the wet coal on the floor. This was because witness bad helped another girl to scrub the corridor, the girl hawing been set to do the work as punishment. Witness saw the prisoner on one occasion strike a girl named Newman with a bunch of keys, cutting her head and making blood Bow. Last July witness saw the prisoner knock down Eliza Clarke (now dead) and her head against the bedstead. This was done because Clarke had been speaking to another girl. Witness also saw the prisoner dip a boy’s bead in a bucket of water on more than one occasion. During the winter prisoner gave the children “basket drill.” They were compelled to walk round the dormitory in their night-clothes, in their bare feet, and with a basket on their heads containing their day clothes. The children were kept at basket drill for an hour after being dragged out of bed.”
Children in workhouses often lived in horrendous conditions. In 1838, a physician who visited the Whitechapel Workhouse noted that:
“…the pale and unhealthy appearance of a number of children in the workhouse, in a room called the Infant Nursery. These children appear to be from two to three years of age; they are 23 in number; they all sleep in one room, and they seldom or never go out of this room, either for air or for exercise.”
In 1841, GR Wythen Baxter’s wrote his infamous The Book of the Bastilles, which was a compilation of various court proceedings and newspaper reports. One example was the case of John Stokes, the porter of the Kidderminster Union workhouse.
“[Stokes] was brought before the county magistrates on the charge of ill-treating a pauper boy in the house, named Perks, aged 8 years. From the evidence it appeared, that the child had a disease of the bladder, which gave great offence to the defendant, who had often punished the boy for the involuntary effects of the complaint. On the previous morning, groans were heard issuing from a sack hanging up from a beam, and on the Governor of the Workhouse cutting it down, the child was found doubled up within the bag, in which state the porter had kept him suspended all the morning ; this ferocious act had been previously perpetrated on several other occasions.”
Most instances of child abuse however went unreported. It is likely that the cases that went to court were only the tip of a very large iceberg.
Five Guns Blazing is available now on Amazon:
“Never had she imagined she would be brought so low, and all for the love of a very bad man.”
1710: Convict’s daughter, Laetitia Beedham, is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny.
In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust.
As the King’s men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?
Emma Rose Millar was born in Birmingham – a child of the seventies. She is a single mum and lives with her young son who keeps her very busy and very happy. Emma left school at 16 and later studied for an Open University degree in Humanities with English Literature. She has done a variety of jobs including chocolatier, lab technician and editorial assistant for a magazine but now works part-time an interpreter.
Emma writes and edits historical fiction and children’s picture books. Her first novel was shortlisted for the Chaucer Award in 2013 and she won the Legend category of the Chaucer Award with FIVE GUNS BLAZING in 2014. She is now working on her third novel THE WOMEN FRIENDS which is based the painting of the same name by Gustav Klimt.