Archive for January, 2014

Steam and Stratagem: Roberta stayed at Number 6 St James Square

January 17, 2014

On her first visit to London Roberta stayed in the rooms her father engaged for business visits to the city. For the purposes of the novel I chose to make those the premises in Number 6 St James because I had found photos of the inside of the house as it looked in 1958 when it was demolished, and used the same surroundings for Roberta’s visit in 1814.

I have to admit that this was another true story I had fudged. The house of 1814 had also been rebuilt— in 1818-1820 and the pictures are of the new premises. However this merely makes them more representative of the time—the way I time shifted the railways and things. So the pictures I have to show are photos taken as record before the 1958 demolition—that’s why the cars out front in the first picture are there—they weren’t time travellers.Front Num 6

Roberta and her Aunt Nelly stayed in rooms in the back premises…a kind of rear wing located beyond an open court on the ground floor. The rooms would have been above a large formal room on the ground floor. The hallway they used to reach the rest of the house and the stairs they descended are shown next.

Hallway to rear Num 6image num 6 stairs

The main drawing room where they met Lord Bond has a few pictures (as it survived until 1958).

image inside num 6Lounge entry Num 6image number6 st James

You can ignore the broken brickwork in this last picture—I assure you it wasn’t there when Lord Bond stood in 1814 to greet them.

Before I end this I have two things to report. First, the publisher and I are in agreement about publishing the sequel to Steam and Stratagem entitled “Spies and Subterfuge”. I expect to receive the contract docs later this week. SandS 2 will carry Roberta’s story on to the end of the Napoleonic Wars. I’m sure it is not a big spoiler if I tell you she gets to meet Napoleon twice.

My other active blog, Rustic Realizations, will have a new post about the same time as this is posted and I want to mention that I give a link to a new global initiative to end all war that is just starting and looking for members. It is at In my blog I draw parallels between the end of the Napoleonic Wars (just a bit past 1814), the beginning of WWI in August 1914 and our world in 2014.


Steam and Stratagem: Roberta and her Father.

January 3, 2014


When I started writing the chapters about Roberta Stephenson that became Steam and Stratagem I wanted to ground her in the real world of 19th century Britain even if she herself was a fictional character. I had planned to have her be a steamship engineer, and a few Wikipedia searches of the early engineers soon showed me that George Stephenson had the most interesting background. An illiterate son of an illiterate coalmine pumping-engine fireman, George by his own efforts became the first president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on its formation in 1847. One could hardly find better father for her story.


Image George Stephenson


He used money from his first job, as an engineman, to educate himself, which in the story is more than enough evidence that had his real daughter Fanny (who had died mere days after her birth) survived she could well have been sent to the fictional Miss Mather’s Acadamy for Girls in place of Roberta. He did educate his real son Robert; early on the two studied engineering together, and when he became prosperous he sent Robert to a private academy to study. He also took care that his son spoke ‘posh’ English to avoid the southern prejudice against northerners with thick accents. I have given Roberta a similar refined voice throughout the novels.


The disputes with Sir Humphrey Davy over the invention of the miners’ safety lamp is mentioned in the story and was a result of academic prejudice. Although two investigations came to the conclusion that Stephenson’s invention was independent of Davy’s the educated southern elite preferred to believe that a mere engineman could never have produced the design unaided and Davy went to his grave still believing his design was stolen. In the story I have Roberta’s father letting her go south with their designs to approach the Admiralty—a reflection of the way he made Robert his mouthpiece and manager of his locomotive works.




While the Trevithick loco of 1802 is considered to be the first practical steam locomotive, George Stephenson’s 1814 travelling locomotive for the Killingworth wagonway is credited with being the first successful flanged wheel adhesion locomotive and the forerunner of all railway locomotives today. The steamship yard in the story is a pure fiction, he never built ships, but the railway planning still used today of following the least resistance to travel by keeping rail grades as flat as possible is a principle he followed for his own railway projects. His careful engineering became somewhat too expensive during his lifetime and he went into semi-retirement, letting his son manage the locomotive works and developing some of the coal seams discovered during the construction of the North Midland Railway as supervisor and investor of the subsequent mines. My stories end before George Stephenson’s retirement, but the end of “Spies and Subterfuge” shows Roberta, and the right man she has finally chosen to marry, are planning to work together in an industry where her Father’s position is that of advisor.


I have resumed writing my blog called Rustic Realizations at and am following the anniversaries of the first abdication of Napoleon in 1814 and the start of WWI in 1914—from our viewpoint in 2014. The first post, “to end all wars” is up now. This post is later than I promised, but I had both computers down before Christmas.