A Walk Into The Victorian Underworld

If you wander down the right bank of the River Thames from Tower Bridge, you’ll come to a block of luxury flats, close to the old St Saviour’s Dock, that is still called Jacob’s Island. It is one of those anonymous dockland blocks, where each individual property costs a great deal of money. To live there would cost the kind of wealth that would have been unimaginable to the folk who lived around Jacob’s Island in the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign.folly_ditch

For, until the 1850s, this was one of the worst slums in Victorian England. A rookery too, in many ways. A place where people were forced to resort to crime in order to exist.

I’ve always been fascinated with Jacob’s Island, ever since I first read about it in the works of Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, and the social commentator Henry Mayhew. Having walked around the site of the old rookery, I wanted to write about it too.

In my new book, Deadly Quest, which is published this Friday, I’ve featured Jacob’s Island quite a bit. My novel has its climax there.

I first heard of Jacob’s Island when I was a boy, and first read Oliver Twist, a novel which reaches its conclusion there. It’s portrayed as the last refuge of Fagin and his gang of pickpockets. It’s the place where Bill Sikes meets his end. Charles Dickens visited the place several times, though it changed over his time. I’ve walked there a few times as well, though there is nothing of the old Victorian rookery to see. But then, when I walk the streets of London, I live in an imaginative past, constructing from a few old buildings the city that has long gone. Here is some of Dickens’ description (I urge you to re-read it in full):

...surrounded by a muddy ditch, six or eight feet deep and fifteen or twenty wide when the tide is in, once called Mill Pond, but known in these days as the Folly Ditch… in Jacob’s Island, the warehouses are roofless and empty; the walls are crumbling down; the doors are falling into the streets; the chimneys are blackened, but they yield no smoke… the houses have no owners; they are broken open, and entered upon by those who have the courage; and there they live, and there they die. They must have powerful motives for a secret residence… who seek a refuge in Jacob’s Island. Oliver Twist, Chapter 50.

So outraged were some London officials by Dickens’ description of Jacob’s Island that they attacked him quite publicly. One city Alderman denied that Jacob’s Island even existed. But it did, and it was probably much worse than even Dickens described. The then Bishop of London, concerned about the appalling conditions, agreed that Dickens’ description was accurate.

Influenced by the social commentary of Henry Mayhew, Charles Kingsley gives his own description of Jacob’s Island in his social novel Alton Locke. If you want to understand the full horror of the place all three writers’ works are well worth seeking out.

Given these descriptions by some of our greatest writers, I was  daunted at the thought of portraying Jacob’s Island in Deadly Quest. But, in a way, my portrayal of Jacob’s Island is much later than theirs. Oliver Twist is set during the reign of William IV, Kingsley and Mayhew’s work a trifle before my book, where the events take place in 1854.

At that time the old rookery of Jacob’s Island was going through its death throes. The London authorities had recognised that the conditions were too appalling to be tolerated any longer.

There had been an outbreak of cholera in the early 1850s – not surprising given that the residents took their drinking water from the Folly Ditch. Some of the island’s buildings had been demolished. Parts of the Folly Ditch, a foul waterway that penetrated to the heart of the district, had been filled-in by 1854. In fact, I’ve taken a few liberties and preserved – for the sake of Deadly Quest – a little more than probably actually survived in 1854.

In my novel, only the truly desperate are still living on Jacob’s Island. I’ve made it the haunt of criminals – after all, my book is a thriller. The sad truth is that only the most pitiful would have still been clinging on, criminals only in the sense that they had to survive.

My book Deadly Quest is now out in paperback and will be published on Kindle from Friday. It’s cheaper if you buy it on pre-order before the actual publication date. Just click on the link for more information.

Illuminated cobbled street in old city by night











Writing “Deadly Quest”

Visit the Goodreads site at http://www.goodreads.com site to win one of three signed copies of my new novel Deadly Quest.

A couple of years ago I wrote the first adventure of a Victorian vigilante called William Quest, a gentleman adventurer with a swordstick who seeks to right wrongs and even up the injustices of society. That book was called The Shadow of William Quest.

Illuminated cobbled street in old city by night

William Quest has pleased me by his popularity and the book has achieved good sales, not only in his home country, but in the USA and several other lands around the world.

A big thank you to everyone who’s bought a copy, told friends about it and left reviews on the online sites. If you’ve enjoyed the book – or any of my other titles – and haven’t left a review on the online sales sites, please do. Every review helps all Indie Authors with sales.

I’ve now written the second book in the series, Deadly Quest, which is already out in paperback and which will be published as an eBook on Kindle on 30th September.

Cheaper if you pre-order as a Kindle book before the publication date, by the way.

Here’s the Link to Order: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deadly-William-Victorian-Mystery-Thriller-ebook/dp/B01LYGNCNQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1474537824&sr=1-1&keywords=deadly+quest

The first novel was set in London and Norfolk. The new book Deadly Quest is set entirely in London, mostly down by the river. I’ve tried to capture a real feeling of London in 1854. Fortunately, I’ve spent years studying Victorian history – I did it as a minor subject in my university degree. I’ve devoted a lot of time since to an expanded study of the Victorian underworld, particularly as regards London.

I’ve walked the streets and alleys used by my characters, by day and night. London has changed a great deal in 160 years, of course. Much of the Victorian cityscape has been bombed or swept away by  developers. The London that is in my imagination is more real to me now than the modern city. There are traces of Quest’s London still to be seen, but they get fewer year by year…

Some of my novel has scenes in a notorious rookery of the time called Jacob’s Island. A district of appalling poverty in Victorian times, Charles Dickens visited it with a police guard. It features in the climax of Oliver Twist. It was already partially demolished by the 1850s. The area was bombed by the Luftwaffe in the London Blitz. Redevelopment accounted for much of the rest. Today that once dreadful slum is a development of luxury flats. You can still visit Jacob’s Island, but it takes quite a leap of imagination to get back to Victorian times.

One problem I encountered in my sequel was that I revealed virtually the whole of Mr Quest’s back story in the first novel, explaining why he decided to take the law into his own hands, fighting for truth and justice and so on. In the new book we start with a completely clean slate.

Many of the characters from ‘Shadow’ make a re-appearance, and there are several villains waiting to be vanquished. It’s been fun encountering the minor characters again. They’ve become quite real to me over the years.

There was also going to be another major character, dominating a sub-plot of the novel. I wrote a number of scenes with this character, before realising he’d wandered into the wrong novel. And yet those thousands of words written are not wasted. This character will encounter William Quest – just not yet.

Visit the Goodreads site at http://www.goodreads.com site to win one of three signed copies of Deadly Quest.

As Indie Publishers we are taking on the big boys in the publishing industry, like the Rupert Murdoch empire. That’s why we need the help of our readers to get the word around about our books. So please do us a great favour and tell your friends. Word of Mouth is the greatest form of advertisement.

As a reward to our loyal readers we’ll be doing more giveaways – signed copies of our books – on the Goodreads site over the coming months.

If you haven’t tried the first William Quest novel yet, and wish to read the series in order, do click on the Books link at the top of this page to order The Shadow of William Quest or any of our other titles.

And yes, there will be more William Quest stories. The next tale will appear next year.


My Latest Book Is Out!

William Quest is back! Deadly Quest (A William Quest Victorian Thriller Book 2) by [Bainbridge, John]

My new novel, DEADLY QUEST, the second in the William Quest series, is now available for pre-order on Kindle at a special offer price.

Publication day is Friday September 30th. The paperback version will be out at the same time. The price will increase that weekend so please do order today for the bargain price.

And if you haven’t read the first novel, The Shadow of William Quest, it’s available both as a Kindle e-Book and in paperback.

Please share this post with your friends, whether they enjoy historical fiction, crime fiction or just have a love of adventure stories…

Regards, John

Here’s more about DEADLY QUEST, with a few readers’ comments on William Quest:

“A reign of terror sweeps through the Victorian underworld as a menacing figure seeks to impose his will on the criminals of London.

On the abandoned wharves of the docklands and in the dangerous gaslit alleys of Whitechapel, hardened villains are being murdered, dealers in stolen goods and brothel keepers threatened.

The cobbles of the old city are running with blood, as pistol shots bark out death to any who resist.

Who can fight back to protect the poor and the oppressed? The detectives of Scotland Yard are baffled as the death toll mounts. There is, of course, William Quest – Victorian avenger. A man brought up to know both sides of the law.

But Quest faces dangers of his own.

Sinister watchers are dogging his footsteps through the fog, as Quest becomes the prey in a deadly manhunt, threatened by a vicious enemy, fighting for his life in a thrilling climax in the most dangerous rookery in Victorian London.

Dead Quest or Deadly Quest?”

An historical crime story by the author of The Shadow of William Quest, A Seaside Mourning and Wolfshead.”

What readers are saying about William Quest…

A page turner of a mystery from the start… I couldn’t put this one down for long as I was caught up in the twists and turns of this richly constructed tale.

Great author, fantastic book. Such a unique story and very well told.

A new hero for these times has entered literature, and is destined to capture the attention of all those yearning for a better chapter within the human saga – it is William Quest.

Great read! Couldn’t put it down.

Superb plotting, believable characters, and a very effective writing style

…a real feel for history and storytelling.

Here’s the Link to Order:


Historic Crime on Sale!

Our Inspector Abbs Mysteries are on SALE for this week only on Kindle Countdown for 99 Pence/Cents each.

A Seaside Mourning and A Christmas Malice will be available at this price only until next Saturday.

We’re currently writing the next Inspector Abbs novel, which is set in London.

The reason why?

Well, the new William Quest novel, Deadly Quest, will be available for pre-order later this week, so we are celebrating all things Victorian.

Watch out for some special blogs about the new book over the coming days.

Please forward this to any of your friends who enjoy Historical Crime. We don’t have Rupert Murdoch’s publishing budget, so rely on word of mouth to tell people about our books.

All of our books are available in paperback as well…

Just click on the links to see the reviews or to order now…

A Seaside Mourning

A Seaside Mourning (The Inspector Abbs Mysteries Book 1) by [Bainbridge, John]An atmospheric Victorian murder mystery.
Devonshire 1873. In the sleepy seaside resort of Seaborough, a leading resident may have been poisoned, Still coming to terms with his own mourning, Inspector Abbs is sent to uncover the truth.
Behind the Nottingham lace curtains, certain residents have their secrets. Under growing pressure, Abbs and Sergeant Reeve must search the past for answers as they try to unmask a killer.

A Christmas Malice: An Inspector Abbs Novella (The Inspector Abbs Mysteries Book 2) by [Bainbridge, John]A Christmas Malice

Christmas 1873. Inspector Abbs is visiting his sister in a lonely village on the edge of the Norfolk Fens. He is hoping for a quiet week while he thinks over a decision about his future. However all is not well in Aylmer. Someone has been playing malicious tricks on the inhabitants. With time on his hands and concerned for his sister, Abbs feels compelled to investigate..
This complete mystery is a novella of around 33,000 words. The events take place shortly after the first full-length Inspector Abbs novel, A Seaside Mourning.

Join us on Goodreads

We are now playing a more active role on our Goodreads page.

You’ll find a list of all our books there, plus information on what we’re reading.

There’ll be giveaways of signed copies of our paperbacks coming up, plus publishing and writing news.

The page also gives you an opportunity to ask us questions about our work.

So just click on the Goodreads site at http://www.goodreads.com type in John Bainbridge in the Search. There are several other John Bainbridge’s so enter one of our book titles as well, say Wolfshead, or A Seaside Mourning etc.

If you like, please join us on the Goodreads page as a friend…

Here’s the page address again – http://www.goodreads.com