A Canadian Mystery Writer in London, England
I’m pleased to welcome Tracy Ward as my guest this week. A former journalist and graduate from Humber College’s School for Writers, Tracy Ward has been hard at work developing her favourite protagonist, Peter Ainsley, and chronicling his adventures as a young surgeon in Victorian England.
Now, here’s Tracy:
I don’t know about you but my writer’s mind never shuts up. I find myself constantly dreaming about other places and the lives of other people, mainly characters conjured by my own imagination. I must confess it can be terribly annoying, but also wonderfully enriching.
Because of the constant chatter happening in my head I am always on the lookout for new material and I have found traveling a great way to replenish “the garden of good ideas”. One of my favourite spots on the globe is London, a good seven-hour flight from my nearest airport and so not easily visited. To make the most of my limited time there this past May, I created a whirl-wind schedule of stops which included The Sherlock Holmes Museum, The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret and The Florence Nightingale Museum at St. Thomas Hospital.
Even though I visited a number of other places in and around London (The Tower, Hampton Court, Westminster Abbey, Churchill’s War Rooms etc), the three stops mentioned above were of most importance to my books and my research.
Tucked on an unassuming commercial block, The Sherlock Holmes Museum takes up residence on Baker Street, 221b Baker Street to be exact. It tries to replicate the flat of rooms Mr. Holmes and his good friend, Watson, shared as they were described in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved tales. Because Holmes and Watson are fictional (heartbreaking, I know) the rooms were never inhabited by the famed detectives and share no historical connection to the stories other than its address. Despite this, a line up for entry was out the door and halfway down the block even in the pouring rain. The furnishings and décor are time period appropriate and reflect the novels and short stories remarkably well. In Holmes’ room in particular you can find a plethora of pipes, a violin and a book on beekeeping. The museum gift shop next door can’t be missed. This museum was my very first stop and did much to help set the mood for my stay in London.
The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret is not as popular as the flat of rooms on Baker Street but it is just as intriguing. A hidden gem in London’s Southwark neighbourhood, the theatre and garret are accessed via a tight, circular staircase complete with worn, rickety steps and femur-thick rope handrail. The rooms inhabit an attic space, once hidden among the rafters of the old St. Thomas Hospital before it was moved to Vauxhall, another of London’s neighbourhoods. The lightest and airiest of the rooms is the operating theatre, a crowded space where medical students stood, supported by handrails, to overlook surgical lessons performed on cadavers, donated to science or otherwise procured. The ceiling overhead is frosted glass which allows copious amounts of light into the space and even the walls were painted a light yellowy-beige creating a bright room compared to the recesses of the garret. On display are a number of Victorian medical instruments as well as jarred specimens ranging from the typical to the downright macabre. This quirky museum deserves its own line out the door, not just the six other people who were there during my visit. It is quintessential Victorian London.
Where St. Thomas Hospital stands today another small medical museum beckons visitors. The Florence Nightingale Museum commemorates the life and achievements of one of history’s most beloved nurses. Ms. Nightingale was the voice of change for the nursing profession and helped to set the tone for improved training for her chosen profession. The daughter of a well to do family, Ms. Nightingale was an unlikely candidate for nursing, a profession that historically attracted drunks and reformed prostitutes. She led a group of nurses to Crimea, where she and others treated the soldiers who fought in the war there. It was her book and regular communication with those back in England that garnered her fame which ultimately paved the way for a higher standard of cleanliness for her fellow nurses and improved care for the men and women in their charge. The museum has a number of articles that belonged to Ms. Nightingale which includes her pet Owl, Athena, who died just after Ms. Nightingale left for the Crimean War.
London is rife with hidden and not so hidden history hotspots around every corner. From the Roman-built wall behind the Tower Hill tube station to the pub that overlooks the old gallows, London is a historian’s playground. It’s also the perfect place to dream up my next book.
Thanks, Tracy. I doubt if there’s a mystery writer (or reader) anywhere who isn’t fascinated by London.
Here’s a little bit about Tracy’s latest book, Sweet Asylum, #4 in the Peter Ainsley mysteries: Unable to shake the oppressive atmosphere of the city after a life changing case, Dr. Peter Ainsley retreats to his family’s country estate near Tunbridge Wells to find asylum and perhaps forgiveness. The discovery of a strange girl in the back woods introduces him, and his sister, Margaret, to the peculiar Owen family with a questionable reputation in town rooted in nefarious gambling activities and a long family history of discord amongst townspeople.
Link to Sweet Asylum: http://amzn.to/1FPEKFm