Today I visited the Cambridge University Library – my spiritual home and happy place – for the first time since (I think) March. It wasn’t the carefree immersion of old: I had to book my visit ahead of time and specify the maximum five books that I wanted them to leave on my allocated desk. No wandering around the open stacks, no snooping around the special collections just to wallow in knowledge, no sniffing the air in the Rare Books Room. But still, I was sitting in the vaulted Reading Room, with ten books at my elbow. (Five book limit – pah! Ask for something that comes in six volumes et voilà!)
I had planned to limit my research for “Plank 7” to the new things I intend to include – Crockford’s gambling club, and London’s sanitation system, for instance. (Now you’re intrigued… And if you’d like to know more about that sanitation stuff, do sign up for my monthly research updates, as that’s my topic for the next one.) But my perusing of the UL catalogue turned up a couple of publications on the history of policing that I had missed before and I couldn’t resist ordering them as well. And I will admit that I opened them with trepidation.
As regular readers will know, I am a devil for historical accuracy. It’s unfortunate, because I am both pedantic and unskilled as a historian. But if it’s in my power to find it out, I will do so, and I will make sure that it is reflected accurately in the Sam books. This means that I live in fear of discovering something new that makes my earlier writing inaccurate. I don’t mind (much…) if my earlier writing has gaps in it, as I can fill those in as I go along, working them into plots of later books. But if something is actually wrong – shudder! Thankfully, today was a day for illumination rather than contradiction. And my top three favourite facts I learned are:
- William Crockford – who owned London’s finest and most aspirational gambling club, which counted the (prudent and non-gambling) Duke of Wellington amongst its members – dressed like a poor country farmer and spoke with “rough cockney tones”
- The wine cellar below Crockford’s was 285 feet long, and contained 300,000 bottles valued at £70,000 in total [that’s about £4.8 million in today’s money]
- The new Metropolitan Police were given a recognisable uniform to wear partly to reassure the public that they were not government spies.