Fall in Love with the Past

Monthly Archives: June 2016

District nurse with pramI write historical fiction set in East London just after WW2 and the most difficult thing about writing about the lives of post-war women today is to try to show readers the vast changes that have occurred in social and moral attitudes over the last seventy years.

For example; the idea that a woman from a working class background would ever go to university was almost unthinkable. Rather than a career the ambition of the majority of young women at that time was to get married and have children. It was expected of them and very few people questioned it. Society supported this as girls’ education featured cookery and needlework designed to equip them with the necessary skills to be a good housewife; very different from the expectation of today’s young women. Continue reading

Now for those of you who don’t know my husband is a vicar in the Church of England and one thing he always complains about in my books is that all my villains are religious people.  That is not strictly true, of course, but I admit many of the characters in my books who have a persona of holiness and morality are often pretty hateful people who do some very horrible things.

However, no matter what their own views on a divine being are if you’re a historical author you will have to recognise that religious institutions were an intrinsic part of everyday life right up to the 1960s.

The church legalised your marriage, baptised your children, gave you the last rites to secure your place in heaven and then buried you. Remember too, before the welfare state you had to be a recognised member of a parish to apply for poor relief or to stand any chance of an education for your children in a Sunday school.

Some parishes were run by vicars who were appointed by the bishop more often than not at the behest of a wealthy patron. The vicar was almost certainly a member of the ruling class and would

The Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope - BBC T V series Geraldine McEwan as Mrs. Proudie

The Barchester Chronicles BBC T V series
Geraldine McEwan as Mrs. Proudie the Bishop’s wife

expect servitude and obedience from their flock and regular invitations to dine and hunt with the local gentry.  He was often in charge of a number of churches which were ministered to by a ‘perpetual’ curate for a meagre stipend or allowance.

To assist the Rector, Vicar or curate in their holy duties were churchwardens, who had a long staff as part of their office with which to keep order during the services. Under them was the parochial church council made up of ‘gentlemen’ who oversaw such things as refuse collection, street maintenance, neighbourhood disputes along with church finances. Until after the 1st World War the PCC would have been exclusively male and made up of local business men or small land owners. They in turn appointed the parish beadle or constable who was in charge of the welfare side of the parish, as with Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist. The verger assists in services, setting things up like the communion plates and changing the altar cloths and there was the sexton who dugs and tended the graves.

It can’t be over emphasised that in times past being an officer of the parish carried enormous status which extended to their wives who often kept a finger on the pulse of a congregation for their husbands by overseeing the welfare provision and under taking parish visiting. As I said a veritable gold mine of plot and character opportunities. Continue reading