The 1830’s are a fascinating decade for English history for many, many reasons. The country hadn’t shifted fully toward the morals of the later Victorian era, but the people started to separate from the Regency mindset as well. Particularly of note is the view of bastard children in England. What Poppy experienced is similar to many different accounts of women who had children out of wedlock, though of course I have dramatized it and changed it to fit the confines of my story. To be a ruined woman in England was a dismaying place in society to inhabit.
While I can’t find record of a particular Magdalen asylum in Surrey, these institutions existed in both Ireland and England at this time. They began originally as homes for prostitutes, but eventually expanded toward all fallen women and women who’d hit upon hard times. The asylums provided food and shelter, yes, but the women were often made to labor without little—or any—payment. The Magdalen laundries existed well into the twentieth century.
Further evidence of change in society can be attributed to the Industrial Revolution. This brought a migration to the cities and new advances in machinery. I touch on a few inventions in this book, but there’s so much more to this period that I couldn’t fit within the framework of Secrets in Scarlet.
Poppy and Thaddeus live in Spitalfields, London. This little pocket of the East End was at this period in time considered a rookery, for great economic downturn had passed through the area. Once, Spitalfields was a teeming community of Huguenot weavers, who had emigrated from the great weaving cities in France of Lyons and Tours. Those weavers benefited from London’s desire for lustrings, velvets, brocades, satins, paduasoys, mantuas, and of course silk. A series of acts throughout the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries made it harder import fabrics from France, and so the weavers became more in demand.
The repeal of the Spitalfields Weaving Acts in the 1820’s struck the small weaving community hard. Coming upon the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the weavers no longer had the financial control they’d maintained over England’s silk industry for centuries. The call for mechanization took hold, and these hand loom weavers who had grown up perfecting this one tedious, delicate way of weaving were left unable to match the easier, less taxing efforts of the mechanized looms. The need for so many weavers was gone. Families were left without incomes, forced to find new jobs in an already highly overpopulated city. Some families, like the Vautilles, went to work in the factories, while others turned to different trades.
Previously, weaving had been a family vocation, with each member of the family involved. The children served as a draw boys for the hand looms, while the adults worked the shuttles, etc. One type of mechanized loom that I mention throughout Secrets in Scarlet, the Jacquard loom, required no draw boy. Though it’s often referred to as a “Jacquard loom,” it’s actually an attachment that can be used with many mechanical looms. It could be operated by one person, and because of its punch card system, suddenly it was possible to work complex patterns into the silk without having to reset the loom each time. The Jacquard loom, invented by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, is one of the most fascinating pieces of machinery out there and the basic structure of it is still in use in today’s fabric industry. In fact, the Jacquard loom has been cited as having a great impact on the development of computers.
While the structure of a factory like the Larkers’s could have existed in London, most textile manufacturing moved out to Manchester and Lancashire. There, large cotton and weaving factories were run, utilizing steam power. In Secrets in Scarlet, because the Larker factory is set in Spitalfields, steam power isn’t used.
And one last note: until the creation of Scotland Yard later in the nineteenth century, London had no real detective force. The Metropolitan Police, created in 1828, were put into place to prevent crime. The belief behind their establishment was that increased patrolling of the streets, organization between districts, etc. would effectively eradicate crime before it could ever happen. They may not have been entirely successful in accomplishing these goals, but the crime rate did decrease after the founding of the Met.