In researching times and places for the scenes in TimeSplash, I found the Web immensely valuable. I knew most of the places quite well already, but only in the present. The past and the future were another matter. I’ll leave the telling of how I developed future settings for another post. Here I want to talk about a few pictures which were key to helping me visualise the past. You have probably seen some of them already. They all appear in the header of this blog and change at random each time you visit (so, to see them all, you’ll have to keep visiting – or at least refreshing the page!)
For the book, each of these pictures (and many others!) helped me visualise scenes for a trip back in time to London in 1902.
The Round Reading Room at the British Museum
This is actually a modern photo (from 2006) but it shows the spectacular dome and the way the shelves wrap around the interior. Nothing much has changed in the past century except for the installation of all those computers! This is a beautiful building and must have impressed the socks off visitors at the time – as it does now.
Cannon Street Train Station, London
This picture is from a postcard from 1910 and shows the stastion as you would see it on your approach over the railway bridge (which crosses the Thames). You can also see the red and green liveried engines of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway – the company that was operating that particular line in 1902. The brownness of everything – including the glass archway over the platforms – is not some kind of ageing or sepia effect. Even in my own childhood, I remember the major railway stations being furred with a dark brown muck from the steam engines.
A Hansom Cab
This is one of the clearest pictures of a hansom cab I could find. Unfortunately, it is from Melbourne, not London, and the cabbie looks nothing like a typical London cabbie of 1902! The hansom cab was invented in the 1830s and didn’t go out of use until nearly a hundred years later, when the car took over.
Street Scene: Charring Cross Road, London
Another postcard, this time of a street scene in London in 1902. Note the omnibus and the hansom cab behind it. Also note the hats the men are wearing – toppers and bowlers as far as the eye can see!
Street Scene: Outside Harrods, London
Fashions were changing quite rapidly at the turn of the Twentieth Century but this rather elegant crowd from 1909 were not dressed too differently from the way a similar crowd would have dressed seven years earlier. The ladies’ hats and hairstyles were much the same as were the gentlemen’s hats and suits. Note the car. Although still quite uncommon at the time, it is quite appropriate to this setting.
Lenin (then called Ulyanov) was arrested in December 1895 and what you see above is his police mug-shot from that event. He was 25 and about to spend 14 months in solitary confinement, but it’s hard to see that in his face. He looks very collected, but, I tell myself, there is a seething anger and huge disdain just below the surface of his expression. I learnt a lot about Lenin in researching TimeSplash but used almost none of it. When he appears in the book, it is six years after this photo, he has served his prison sentence, been exiled to Siberia, married, and begun a life of wandering around the European capitals. 1902 was the year he adopted the name “Lenin”, moved to London, and for the first time visited the Round Reading Room at the British Museum.
Steam Engine Backplate
This is the boiler backplate of the West Country class steam engine No. 21C123 Blackmoor Vale. It is a much more recent model than the engines you see in the picture of Cannon St station above, but very much the same, technically, and I wanted to show the mess of valves and gauges you find in the cab of a steam engine. When I was a child, there were still steam engines running in the UK and I loved them. I loved train stations and shunting yards too and spent a lot of time in such places.