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[Guest Post] Lawless and the House of Electricity: Electric Blog Tour Day 7

In London’s East End, a corpse tumbles from a ship. Tangled in tarpaulin, it has lain forgotten for years. A scrap of paper in its pocket reads ‘Roxbury’.

The shadows of European machinations loom over the capital. For Sergeant Campbell Lawless, fears become reality as a series of explosions tear across the country. Home Office anxieties lead Lawless to Roxbury House, where the Earl of Roxbury, the country’s foremost weapons manufacturer, resides with a cavalcade of innovative scientists and researchers. Lawless places his best agent, ex-street urchin Molly, in the Earl’s home as he races to find those behind the attacks before the tinderbox of Europe is ignited.

Lawless & the House of Electricity by William Sutton, third in his series of Lawless mysteries exploring the darker sides of Victorian London, is published by Titan Books.

Victorian Trainline? Websites Victorian novelists long for…

  1. How long does it take to get from Portsmouth to London?
  2. How long to cross London from Waterloo station to King’s Cross?
  3. What is the weather like in the Northumbrian hills when my characters walk there?
  4. Where do they keep the lifeboats on an ocean liner?
  5. What else is in the news at the time of the book? Who else died/was born etc?
  6. How long does it take to get from South Africa to England?

These are perfectly normal questions for any novelist to ask. In the past, it might have taken a phonecall to a friend or a visit to a library: checking old photos, consulting an encyclopaedia, looking out an old newspaper. These days, you could answer my questions within a few seconds on:

  1. The Trainline
  2. Citymapper/Google maps
  3. BBC Weather
  4. Wikipedia
  5. Wikipedia, Wikipedia
  6. Skyscanner



Five Vic Lit Websites

For us Victorian novelists, things are a little more complex. Let’s invent a few online tools developers could work up for us. Come on, app-sters, make us happy.

  • Victorian Trainline

The Trainline doesn’t reflect the Victorian train network. Let’s think what we’d need to make it easier.

Surely this could be extrapolated from today’s timetables. You might think so. You’d be wrong. You might also assume the journeys were all desperately slower. You’d be wrong again – sometimes. Here’s why.

Anyone who remembers 1960s Britain will lament, “Damn, closing all the railways.” Search any British county for rural cyclepaths and you find “disused railway” marked on the map. In West Meon, where I got married, one can walk the gorgeous line for miles and miles. Its closure may have made the Meon Valley quieter, but it lengthened Meonites commute to London. Either they head west to catch the Southampton-Winchester line; or east to the Portsmouth-Petersfield line. The story is repeated countrywide, for railway mania sent lines to every corner of the kingdom (some profitable, many not).

It’s true that steam engines, even at full-tilt, could not rival today’s high-speed trains (Bristol-London today two and a quarter hours, in 1841 four, coming down to three by 1900).

Yet many branch line journeys would take you all the way there, where today you’d need a bus or a taxi to complete the trip.


  • Citymapper/Google maps

There is no more reliable method of judging such a journey than by finding it in a Victorian novel. How long did it take Copperfield to walk to the York water gate? How long for a cab from Fleet Street to Dr Watson’s?

An enterprising app-ster could trawl Google Books to extract this info for us. I’d like options for how long by carriage, foot, bicycle, canal and hot-air balloon, please.


  • Blast from the Past Weather

Again, trawling local papers is the only reliable thing. Even there, disagreement reigns: for example, Turner’s vision of the London sky in 1808 is challenged by a gentleman artist who was sketching the same day.

App-sters would have to compare news reports with photographs and paintings to offer day-by-day weather to historical authors. (Weather Underground is on the right lines. Bravo! Encore!)

  • Wikipedia

Yes, Wikipedia is pretty good for this. I found pictures of the SS Great Eastern on shore and at sea, which showed the different positions of lifeboats reported in contemporary accounts – which was crucial to my first body.

  • Encyclopaedia

I still find old reference books more thorough and reliable for big annual events. Biographies also tend to be richer than history books. I defy any programmer to extract this info from contemporary sources. I also note that, for example, assassinations, bombs and anarchist explosions are not always given much publicity at the time.

  • Shipscanner

This needs a thorough trawl through shipping lines literature, as done by the creator of this wonderful graphic for New York-London sailing times 1830-1960, from the Geography of Transport Systems.


t @WilliamGeorgeQ

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Titan Books

Kristina Manente is the founder of The Baker Street Babes, as well as a podcaster, reporter, event coordinator, and PR guru for the Babes. Beyond Holmes, she’s a gamer, a traveler, a writer, a radio host, and a Van Winkle style napper.

You can listen to her radio work at, follow her travels at The Nerdventurists, and read her nerdy culture blog at Feel free to stalk her on twitter at @CurlyFourEyes.

One Response to “[Guest Post] Lawless and the House of Electricity: Electric Blog Tour Day 7”

  1. Thanks, Kristina, for posting this so beautifully. It has led to much comment. Great stuff.

    Hoping next summer to put you in touch with my friend who runs Holmes Fest:
    a new and growing festival in Portsmouth, just yards from where Conan Doyle first landed in the town where he invented Sherlock Holmes.

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