A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the arrival of my hero and heroine of A Raging Madness at the tumble-down Renwater Grange, the estate gifted to Alex by a grateful king. They woke up the next morning, went for a walk to investigate the stables, and met the husband of their temporary housekeeper. And then I got stuck.
I knew where the house was; in the village of Renbridge, in the Lincolnshire dales. I’d done quite a bit of research about agriculture and horse breeding in the dales, and the type of land ownership and architecture. But who lived in Renbridge? What were their names, their characters, their habits and their interrelationships?
I realise that most of the villagers won’t have a mention in the book, and that even those who wriggle their way into the first draft might be cut in the second. But I have no idea which ones are a permanent part of the story, and—in any case—their existence, mentioned or not, is texture in the background. Who are these people?
So for the past fortnight, I’ve been writing a village. I thought you might like to see the raw results.
10.2 miles from Horncastle, 6.9 miles from Louth, 8.7 miles from Alford
The church and rectory
The church is St Ninians, the living is at the gift of the King as Duke of Lancaster. The Rector is Reverend Daniel Morris, a single man, an elderly widower with no children. His housekeeper is Mrs Kelk, wife of his handyman and general servant. He also has an all purpose maid, Aggie Nevis. Mr Morris (74), Kelk (56), Mrs Kelk (57) (the five Kelk children are all gone — two dead as children, a boy and a girl, one married and in Alford, one in the army, and one in the US after a run in with the law). Aggie (48) never married, has been with the living longer than the others.
Mr Morris is kindly, scholastic, and sharp as a tack. Very social, has a lovely little dog that he takes walking. He is a classics scholar with a speciality in Republican Rome and takes students. One is currently living across the road with the Mullens.
Innkeeper is Silas Hancock (48), and his wife Betsy (46). They have grown sons and a daughter who also work at the inn. Sons are Fred (27), Sam (25) and Dick (19). Their daughter is Mattie (19). Four children died between Sam and Dick, two during a village cholera epidemic, one of smallpox, and one in an accident. Dick and Mattie are twins. Also various servants who may or may not get names. Fred manages the stables with Dick’s help. Silas is mine host. Betsy and Mattie rule the kitchen. Mattie is being courted by a farmer’s son. Inn has been in the Hancock family for generations.
The inn, church, and grange are on the Y intersection.
Cottages on the road to Alford
On the road to Alford between the church and the grange are three cottages, all detached. On the east of the road, next to the rectory, is the Fox house, then Widow Bycroft’s cottage, then the bridge over the Ren. On the west of the road next to the bridge is the Broadley cottage. The rest of the west is grange land.
The Fox family is large and unruly. Jeb Fox (35) is a drunkard and a lout. He does farm labour when he can get it, but most of the farmers around will only use him if they have to, as he cannot be relied on. Pansy Fox (28) takes in washing, cleans, and (it is rumoured) supplements her income by lifting her skirts. Fox beats her when he suspects such a thing, and so her lovers are circumspect, but she has 7 children to feed, and those are just the survivors. She has buried 4, two in the same cholera epidemic as the Hancocks. The children are one a year, 11, 10, 9, 7, 6, 3, 1, with the dead ones fitting in the gaps. She is pregnant again. Not all of the children look like her or Fox.
The widow, Harriet Rycroft (61) lives in a house that is slightly more substantial than a cottage. She and her maid of all work and dear friend, Jane Harper (59), came here from far away and have lived quietly in the village for 25 years. The villagers would be surprised to know that they are retired prostitutes. They often give work to Pansy Fox, but pay her in food and clothing. Mrs Rycroft runs a dame school for the village children.
The Broadleys are both from families that have long been in the area. Jack Broadley (47) is a farm labourer, a large quiet man that will turn his hand to most things. Because work is scarce in the area and farmers can usually take their pick, it is significant that he is usually among the first chosen. Bee Broadley (Phoebe, 43) is Silas Hancock’s sister. She has been hired as temporary housekeeper at the grange, and is the first person Alex and Ella meet when they arrive. The Broadleys have one son (John, 24), who was impressed by the navy but who loves the life, and a daughter (Molly, 22) who has married a local farmer.
A row of cottages on the road to Horncastle
Bill Rose (67) runs the village shop, with the support of his two daughters, Martha (34) and Jemima (32). His wife died when the girls were teens. Bill’s son Willy married and moved away years ago. Willy is horse mad, used to work in the inn stables, and took a job to be closer to horses. The innkeeper, Bill, is in failing health and Willy wants to be closer, so will apply for job as stable master. Bill has chased off any suitors for his daughters, so they are still single. They are involved in all village activities, especially church activities.
George Mullen (27) and his wife Millie (20) are newly weds. He is a farm labourer, son of farm labourers from another village closer to Alford. She is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Hewitt, who live further along the road. They can only afford the cottage because they have a gentleman boarder, a scholar who is studying with Mr Morris. He is a young man who hopes to take religious orders, which will work better if he can keep his eyes of Mattie Hancock. Peregrine Fairweather (23) is the second son of a family of comfortably situated gentry, and a nice enough young fellow.
Matthew Peck (56) and his two sisters Katie (57) and Pauline (59) live in the last cottage on the way out of the village. Matthew is a farm labourer. Katie and Pauline do piece work for a dressmaker in Hardcastle.
Cottages on the road to Louth
Charlie Arnott (48) is the village smith, and also the verger. His father, also Charlie (78) was both of these things before him but is now suffering from dementia. His mother Maggie (67) looks after Charlie and also helps with the house and children. Charlie is a widower, his wife having died in childbed some 10 years ago, leaving four children: Charles Jnr, who is 19 and his father’s apprentice, Becky (16), Tom (14) and Ben (12).
Nathan Hill (34) and his wife Lucy (28) live in the eastmost cottage with children Fanny (6), Jenny (4), Ninian (2), and Lucy is heavily pregnant. Nathan is a carpenter and general handyman. Lucy spins, sews, and makes bonnets to supplement the family income.
The remaining villagers, the Woods, Farrows, Hewitts, and Dodds, live in the row of cottages on the south side of the Louth road.
Moses Wood (46), the carter, is married to Hester (39). They have one son, Aaron, who is in the army (22). Hester is a baker at the inn.
Tim Farrow (36) is a farm labourer living with his mother, Alice Farrow (61). He was a rival for Lucy Hill’s hand and has been miserably single ever since. Jemima Rose has hopes of him, but he hasn’t noticed.
Ted (62) and Mary (61) Hewitt are the parents of a large brood, mostly dispersed. Millie is the youngest, and recently married George Mullen. They also have 3 sons and 2 other daughters, as well as 2 who died as children. The eldest is Eddie, 34, an assistant stable master in Hardcastle. Mary-Kate (31) is married to one of Alex’s tenant farmers. Suzy (27) went into service and is now assistant housekeeper for a baron near Lincoln. Twin brothers Wally and Bart (23) both live at home and are farm labourers with their father. Mary helps out at the inn.
Gabe Dodd (38) and his wife Abbie (35) live in the last cottage on the road to Louth. They have three children, Matthew (10), Mark (7), and Luke (4). Abbie has just discovered that she is with child again, but has not yet told anyone because she is prone to miscarriage. Gabe is a builder/bricklayer.
Five farms pay rental to Alex
Jerry Ashton (62) and his wife Agnes (58) are Lucy Hill’s parents. They also have two sons who work the land with their father, Frank (34) and Harry (31). Both are married, Frank to Nan (28) – two small children, 5 and 3—and Harry to Dinah (27, and Nan’s sister)—two small children, 3 and newborn.
Jonas Catchpole (43) and his wife Clara (46) live with Clara’s elderly parents (Seth 74 and Mary 71). Their one daughter is married to Rafe Bracey. They have a live-in farm worker, Johnny Harper (32) who had hoped to marry Rachel himself.
Billy Horrell (52) is a widower with two grown sons. William (28) is single and Henry (25) recently married Molly Broadley
Rafe Bracy (33) is married to Rachel (21), the daughter of the Catchpoles. Rafe and Rachel live with Rafe’s brother Mike (35), who is a widower with two small children (7 and 3). Rafe was in the army, but returned home when his brother’s wife Mary died.
Ambrose West (39) lives with his sister Heloise (37). He is sweet on Martha Rose, and has been since they were children. Their mother was gentry who married down. She is a doddery old woman of 66, who sews by the fire and occasionally discomforts people by noticing what is going on. They hire their farm labour from the village.