Wednesday, 3 April 2013

My first Question and Answer session regarding 'The Borough Boys'

Q - What made you want to write ‘The Borough Boys series?’
A – Back in 1976, when I started walking the beat as a young Cop, in Leicester, I was fascinated by the history of the Town. There are some great places, full of atmosphere, with original buildings and street lamps, and that sort of prompt.
I decided that I wanted to know what Leicester must have been like back then, during that early Victorian period, and that got me going.

Q – Why ‘The Borough Boys?’
A – The original name was Leicester Borough Police. They covered the Town area, and in 1839 Leicestershire County Police was formed, who covered beyond the Town walls, and the old periphery.

Q – Why did you start off in 1850/51?
A – I wanted to take people to a period in time, where change was already occurring, and Leicester was already feeling that change. By 1850, it was already suffering the Industry and scars that would bring, and the population of the Town was an ‘interesting mix’ by then.

Q – Who is the character Samson Shepherd based upon?
A – Me of course, as a young man, mixed with the best or worst bits, of other such young cops I have worked with over the years.

Q – And John Beddows?
A  - Ah, John Beddows wasn’t meant to be a star in the series, but he developed on the back of my developing storyline. I needed an older mentor, and again, created a character who had the best I could take from all my old Tutors and mentors. He is a man I would admire, and he is a bit of good, and a bit of evil, rolled into an efficient crime fighter.

Q – So what would Leicester have been like in 1850?
A – It was a grim place to be. I started researching about two years ago, and the books and history available on the internet, disclosed a place I had no knowledge of, yet I have lived so close to it for over fifty years.
Imagine, in 1836, John Flowers, the artist who features in ‘Jack Ketch’s Puppets’, painted and sketched what Leicester was like then. Fifteen years later, it had Railways, factories, dye-houses, Foundry’s, large Industrial buildings blotted out the skyline, and the trees of 1836 were all cut down and burned for fuel!
Also, so many people came to the new Town, looking for work. The old frame-knitters were a dying breed and places like Corah’s offered hundreds of jobs.
Small houses were thrown up quickly, and old pig sties and hovels became homes to hundreds if not thousands of incomers. 900 Irish came over after the famine of 1845 and settled. Most came to ‘The Rookeries’ in St Margaret’s Parish, which was about as bad as it got.

Q – Why was it called ‘the Rookeries’?
A – A Rookery is felt to be a place where nests spring up and populations explode rapidly. In London, the name had already been coined for several undesirable parts of The East End and around Bloomsbury and St. Giles, and so it became a term for similar areas in places such as Leicester.

Q – Was it really that bad?
A – The area around what we now think of as St Margaret’s Bus Station; Abbey Street, Mansfield Street, Sandiacre Street, Garden Street and Orchard Street, from Churchgate and down along Belgrave Gate to where Corah’s was sited, was just a mass of tiny little lanes and yards. Cock Muck Hill, Delaney’s Yard, names that come from the book, were all there. Pork Shop Yard was infamous. It was really called Hextall’s Yard, and was the domain of Abigail Hextall, who owned a Common Lodging House at the end of it. It became infamous.

Q – Why was there so much crime?
A – Think about it. A Frame work knitter could earn about four shillings a week. It was virtually slave labour. If he or she could not get work and the Factories like Corahs was taking work away from them, they would starve.
The other option was the Workhouse; the new one had just been built on what we now know as Sparkenhoe Street, on what was then called High Fields, to the south of the Town. There they worked you until you broke, for just a roof over your head.
So, the Death penalty had gone for most crimes. Transportation to the Colonies was the worst you could get outside of a prison cell here in Leicester.
Sex was a popular distraction. A Street prostitute, female or male, and I’m not talking about the posher ones in the Brothels, could make anywhere between £5 and £20 a week selling themselves in alleyways and yards. To earn that as a frame work knitter would take you between five months and two years! Now do you understand why crime became rife?
Pick-pockets and conmen were so prolific; it was almost condoned as a consequence of walking through the Town. If you were fool enough, you would get robbed or conned out of something, so more fool you.

Q – And what were those old fashioned Coppers like?
A – To start off with it must have been awful. You were no more than a glorified night watch man, and you were paid by the ‘watch’ for that reason. Peel had set a standard for the Metropolitan Police, but it took long after 1836 for it to become respectable.
Of the fifty original Coppers taken on in 1836, only four remained in 1840, many leaving through assaults and abuse. Many went on with Frederick Goodyer to less demanding beats in The County.
The Borough Police were often drunk, as beer and gin were safer than water.
Many were dishonest, and turned a blind eye, for minor rewards.
 Magistrates didn’t like them. Nor did they back them up when they took people to courts.
It must have been miserable for those who wanted to be good Coppers.

Q – So what makes Samson Shepherd, John Beddows and The Borough Boys those good guys?
A – They were tough. They were fair. They were determined. They were hard men, standing up to large gangs that roamed the Town, infiltrating them with detectives like Tanky Smith and Black Tommy Haynes, getting into them and locking them away! A touch ruthless, if I was to be honest.
They had to cross the line at times to win the battle and the war against crime, and make Leicester the Town it would become.

Q – What have you in mind next, now that ‘Jack Ketch’s puppets’ has been published?
A – There are three short novels in development. One will cover each year between 1851 and 1853. The next major novel set in 1854/5 is a bit different to ‘Jack Ketch’s Puppets’ and is set against anti-war sentiment during the Crimean Campaign, and the end of the first Afghan war. Totally different!

Q – When can we expect to see the next, the first short novel, out?
A – Hopefully for the summer, this year. Just in time for the Holiday market and Airport and Service area book piles!


  1. Thanks for the background, Phil - a grim time in history. I liked that you based Samson on yourself - a good, strong character there with a code of ethics in a time when it seems being ethical was rare. I have to say, I really loved your detectives, Tanky and Black Tommy - always there in the nick of time. Very much looking forward to the second book.

    1. Hi Megan; I hope you have had a nice Easter, and that things are going smoothly with the two versions of the book? Thanks for the feedback. There are some great characters, and I can keep them going until about 1864 (when they both actually left the Police). Tanky Smith went on to become a private detective, and many think he is the model for Sherlock Holmes, as he was a master of disguise. Both he and Black Tommy will feature in my next few books! Too precious to tinker with!


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