“Marylebone became home to the city’s wealthy elite, but it was also scarred by pockets of extreme poverty. In Marylebone’s large and notorious workhouse, opened in 1775 on land donated by the Portland Estate on the north side of Paddington Street, society’s poorest and most vulnerable exchanged unpaid labour for food and shelter. A Ragged School, founded in 1846 on Grotto Passage, was set up to provide education for destitute children. The Ossington Buildings estate, off Moxon Street, was built between 1888 and 1892 to house some of the area’s working class poor, who had previously lived at the same site in miserable slum dwellings.”
– from History: The Howard deWalden estate
Once in a while someone does you a huge favour in the research department and this is one of those times:
Canada officially became a country in the British Empire in 1867 with the enactment of the British North America Act.
Prior to that the land we now call Canada was just a bunch of European and American settlements.
The Canadian Red Ensign was Canada’s flag at the time (it would not be replaced by the modern version of the red and white flag until 1965).
Dominion Day celebrations were not as popular as Canada Day celebrations are because back then Canadians still thought of themselves as pretty British. There was a big Dominion Day celebration in 1917 marking the golden anniversary of the Confederation and then again in 1927 – called the diamond jubilee.
By 1932, Portia is back in Toronto, pursuing a case on behalf of her best friend, Annie Coleson, so I am sure she partook in the local celebrations of her native country’s birthday!
Yeah, I thought that title would catch your collective eyes. Writing in Starbucks this week, my friend John Lorinc gave me an idea when I mused aloud: “Now where would one dump a body in Toronto?” It shows that he is a good friend that he knew I was speaking about my detective series and not planning a murder, but he suggested that in the 1930s, the Ashbridges Marsh might be a good spot to rid oneself of a dead body. According to the University of Toronto’s library (where that photo on the left is from) back then the Ashbridges Bay Marsh was more than five square kilometres wide. One would take the Coxwell streetcar to get into the area and Ulster Stadium was built there in 1925 (where it stood until 1945). It was incredibly polluted (with sewage and run-off from unregulated factories) but still managed to support wildlife and birds. People, horses, children all drowned in this marsh over the years, add to that the toxicity of the area, and it was due for a fix. The city finally decided to fill in the marsh between 1920 and 1950, but there was still a bit of marshland left for the murderous purposes of this author .
One of the characters in book 4 is a Canadian lawyer who has become disillusioned with the law only a few years after taking the bar. I’m in the midst of creating this woman’s back-story, but as I do I am reading about the true histories of some ground-breaking women like Tmima Cohn of Toronto (1907-1989).
Here’s a bit about her from the Law Society of Upper Canada’s website:
Tmima Cohn was inspired to go into law by her father, a Romanian-born Orthodox Jew who marched in a suffragist parade in Toronto, and by her mother, who was a teacher, Bible scholar, and early advocate of women’s rights. After graduating from the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School, she was called to the bar in 1932. She found the profession unwelcoming to a Jewish woman lawyer and like other women of the period, she stopped practising when she had children. As a lay person, she actively promoted environmental issues and the rights of women in the United States where she lived most of her life, by offering her services at free legal clinics, giving talks on women’s rights, and writing a handbook of legal rights for women in Florida in 1976.
She sounds amazing doesn’t she? My own lawyer, who I am naming Clara Schott (after the first female lawyer in Ontario AND the Commonwealth – Clara Brett Martin) is going to be older, and will add some gravitas to the work Annie and Portia must do to free Mr. Coleson from jail.
In my head she looks a bit like Susan Sarandon in The Lovely Bones.
I’m researching Toronto newspapers today and thought I would share some of my findings with you interested folks!
It looks like The Globe and Mail was still called The Globe as of the early 1930s (this is prior to their merger with Mail and Empire in 1936). It would have been a viable source of news for Portia and Annie as they navigate the streets of Montreal and Toronto. Here is the wikipedia article for The Globe and Mail.
The Toronto Evening Telegram was a local Toronto paper which would have been hard to get one’s hands on outside of the city and folded in 1971. It was in direct competition with the Toronto Star, which back in the 30s was called The Toronto Daily Star, and was supposed to better represent the ‘common man’s interests. You can read more about the history of the Toronto Star on their website here.
The Montreal Gazette (just called Gazette in the 30s) it turns out has been around forever – founded in 1778 if you can imagine – and was in a dual French-English format. The competing Quebec Gazette is an English-language weekly these days but back in the 30s was a dual French-English weekly.
So there you have it. All the news our girls could want in print form!
Despite having lived in London for the first six years of my life, and visited the city for a few days at a time in the years since, this was the first time I got to focus on research for my Portia Adams series.
Here is my Sherlockian itinerary:
- Sherlock Holmes Museum (at the actual 221 B Baker Street)
- Holmes exhibit at the Museum of London
- Old Scotland Yard (and new Scotland Yard)
- 10 Downing Street
- Regents Park
- The Strand
- Westminister, Waterloo and London Bridges
Click below to see pics and my take on each of those fabulous locations, but suffice to say, I’m feeling even more inspired to keep writing about Portia’s adventures in London!
Sherlock Holmes Museum (at the actual 221 B Baker Street)
Actually located on Baker Street (unlike where the current BBC Sherlock is filmed on North Gower Street in London), the private museum had to get special permission from the City of Westminster to call itself 221B even though it is located between numbers 237 and 241. Downstairs you will find the shop of wonderful memorabilia, but upstairs they have attempted to recreate the original canon-descriptions of the offices of Holmes and Watson circa the 1880s. You find the sitting room, Sherlock’s little laboratory and Dr. Watson’s room laid out with medical books and equipment. It’s lovely and quaint but SO tiny. It made me really wonder how two men could plausibly live in such a tiny space. Not sure if the dimensions are different than those Conan-Doyle intended or if a lifetime of living in Canada has spoiled me for open-spaces.
Holmes exhibit at the Museum of London
This was just a lucky coincidence that my trip to London lined up with this exhibit at the London Museum. Sub-titled “The man who never lived and will never die” it features some fantastic original Conan-Doyle manuscripts, all kinds of movie posters, an interview with the author about his creation and vintage costumes and a lot of little details even I (an aficionado if there ever was one!) didn’t know. Like for example: did you know that the original names of the detective duo were J Sherrinford Holmes and Ormond Sacker? I knew about Sherinnford, but wow, Ormond Sacker instead of John Watson? Yikes.
Old Scotland Yard (and new Scotland Yard)
Now called the Norman Shaw buildings, Old Scotland Yard is both romantically beautiful and very business-like in its architecture.
I sat on a bench at 4 Whitehall Place for a half hour imagining Portia running up and down in pursuit of clues and following Brian around as he does his work.
10 Downing Street
I should have known this I suppose, but when you get to Downing street, you are confronted by a large fenced in area and you can go no further. It was disappointing, but when I turned around I saw a lovely sculpture dedicated to the women for World War II, so I felt rewarded for hiking all the way to that location.
This park is huge, I don’t think I had an appreciation for Portia and Nerissa’s favourite stomping ground until I actually walked around for 5 hours in it! It’s gorgeous and green (even in March) and filled with people, critters and ponds. I could see spending hours writing on a park bench if it were a bit warmer.
Back in Portia’s day, the area of London called ‘The Strand’ was the centre of nightlife and theatre. She visits the area often because King’s College’s main campus is located here, and she takes a few classes, and meets up with friends there. These days it has theatres, lots of shops and is a major tourist hot-spot. I visited King’s College on the Thames and it is a beautiful campus with white stone buildings and lovely statues of Sappho and Sophocles. I think Portia, Beans and Gavin would have spent many a happy hour on this campus.
So, I walked across Westminster Bridge, where the jewels were actually tossed into the Thames, and where Portia does her midnight stakeout. It was busy in the middle of the day, but when you lean over the side, you can imagine what it was like 100 years ago because it quite simply has not changed that much. Well, except for the garbage. Back in Portia’s day the Thames was still being used as a sewer, a garbage dump and God knows what else. In 1957 it was actually declared ‘biologically dead’ if you can imagine.
Waterloo Bridge I crossed while on a tour bus (when your feet get tired, it’s the best way to travel!) and London Bridge I hopped off and walked across on my way to the Monument to the Great Fire of London.
The following is a guest post by men’s style expert Pedro Mendes.
The 1930s are widely considered the apex of modern men’s style. After the restrictive and drab dress of the Victorians and Edwardians, but before the grey uniformity of post-WW2, the 1930s saw men’s fashion express itself like never before, and perhaps, like never since. Despite the Great Depression, this was not a time of deprivation in clothing – like the rationing to come in the 40s that almost killed three-piece and cemented flat-front pants. Instead, the biggest change from the 1920s was a sobering of colours and patterns. The wild abandon of the Gatsby era was toned down, with a return to more sober greys, blues and subtle patterns. That’s not to say that there wasn’t colour in the 1930s, it just wasn’t the rainbow of the previous decade.
The other great development that was born in 1930s London was the “drape” suit. Meant to enhance and exaggerate the male form, more fabric was used in the torso and the jacket was shaped to nip in at the waist while tapering in the sleeve. Pants continued to be wide, but again tapered at the ankle. It all was meant to broaden the shoulders and lengthen the legs, making men look more muscular and manly. Perhaps this was an emotional reaction to the Depression – all the unemployment had undermined men’s self-worth and their roles in society. But more likely it was simply an evolution in taste as English tailoring began to be influenced by Italians – who used more fabric, less structure, and a severe V shape in their tailoring.
Over in the United States, young men started challenging the norm by wearing blazers and sport jackets in town, mixing athletic wear with suits and ties. Button-down collars with ties and tweeds, Fair Isle sweaters and the more relaxed “sack suit.” As society became more casual, and young people, especially in university and college started to have more influence on fashion, odd jackets became more acceptable. Some of this look was itself influenced by England’s Prince of Wales on his journeys across the pond. Unlike his father, the Price was a much more casual and relaxed dresser and a huge influence on British style.
All of the above, however, relates mostly to the upper and moneyed classes. The regular person on the street kept wearing what they had been wearing for years, unlike today when clothes are regularly thrown away and replaced every year or two. Perhaps you could afford to have a suit made at a local tailor and so you could follow the trends of the day, which at the time were reinforced by Hollywood movies. One way the average person was able to afford more clothing than before the Depression was the widespread popularity and availability of off-the-rack. But whereas today you can find some off-the-rack of exceptional quality, the first mass produced suits, when seen with a keen eye, were miles away from custom work.
Pedro Mendes is an expert in men’s style and the editor of The Hogtown Rake, which you should check out and follow immediately!
I have no idea how it took this long to stumble across this, but check out this awesome photo gallery of Scotland Yard over the decades on Time Magazine’s website:
I was doing research at the time into police training in the 1930s, so here are some of my findings:
Awesome image I found on Pinterest of mens fashion in the ’30s #justkeepwriting