Victorian series


Pix & Notes: Baddesley Clinton

I visited Baddesley Clinton (in 2009, my first research-only trip to England. It’s one of mybaddesley_clinton favorite stately homes, the one I would live in if I had a different life to live and wanted to spend it in the English countryside (which I love, but not that much.)

This is one of the places where I had to hoof it fleetly to catch the train back to Stratford-upon-Avon, where I was staying. This because I eccentrically refuse to drive a car whilst in England. Partly because of the wrong-side-of-the-road thing, partly because I like to rubber-neck, and partly because it seems rude to pollute other people’s countries by burning additional fossil fuels. Eccentric; I said it already!

bad_clint6I must have taken the train from Stratford to Lapworth and then walked 1.5 miles, which isn’t very far. So this isn’t the place I’m remembering, whence I had to walk as fast as I was able for about 3 miles. They do tend to run together over time.

The train lets you off at a station-less stop. You hike along a narrow two-lane road with high hedges on either side cutting off the view. Peugeots zoom past you at a hair-raising speed. You see no other pedestrians or cyclists. You reach the entrance to the stately property and gratefully turn onto a narrow lane, free of Peugeots, lined with graceful rows of ancient trees between whose trunks you admire the rolling greenery dotted with sheep or cows. Then at last you come around a corner and enjoy an artfully crafted first glimpse of the historical building you’ve walked so far to see.

A whirlwind history

(From the booklet.) A Saxon called Baeddi first cleared this site in the Forest of Arden. Then along came the de Clintons in the thirteenth century, undoubtedly Normans. They sensibly dug the moat. If you owned anything worth capturing, like a daughter with a dowry or a hall full of plate, you needed a defensible dwelling. Not to mention all the handy fish.

John Brome, a lawyer from Warwick, acquired the manor in 1438. That’s the guy that attracted my interest. They don’t say which Inn of Court he belonged to, but it could have been any of them. Gray’s is known to have existed from at least 1370. This is just the sort of house my legal gentlemen would reside in between court terms, if I ever let them leave London, which I don’t, because Francis Bacon rarely left. He stuck close to the royal court, which followed the monarch, usually to the palaces up and down the Thames. One of these books, though, they’re all heading out some rural county. Then they’ll stay in house modeled on Bad Clint, moat and all.

Brome’s heir was a daughter, who married Sir Edward Ferrers. He remodeled the place, leaving it in more or less the shape we find it today. The house remained in the Ferrers family until 1980, when they were able to leave it to the National Trust with a sufficient endowment to take care of it. Thoughtful people! There’s an Edward Ferrers in Wikipedia in my period of interest (c.1573–1639.) He gets a mention because he was a Member of Parliament. He can’t be a Bad Clint Ferrers, though, because his father was from Fiddlington in Devonshire.

The Quartet

Marmion Edward Ferrers

We skip merrily past the intervening generations to the late nineteenth century. In 1867, Marmion Edward Ferrers married Rebecca Dulcibella Orpen, a name you could not make up. Shortly after, Rebecca’s aunt, Lady Georgiana Chatterton and her husband Edward Heneage Dering moved in too. The four friends devoted themselves to the arts and religion. That latter may have been mentioned to discourage the sorts of thoughts I know you were all thinking when you first heard about that foursome. Two Eds, a Dulcibella, and a Lady Chatterton? Which religion did they say they were practicing?


Rebecca Dulcibella Ferrers
Rebecca Dulcibella’s self-portrait
Lady Chatterton

Rebecca and Ed Dering married after their other spouses died. I smell trouble, but the National Trust doesn’t indulge in such unsavory fantasies. Besides, Lady C, the oldest of the group, died in 1876 and Marmion in 1884 — a long time to wait between murders with a marital motive.

Rev. Joseph Kelly moved in to keep things kosher, Catholic-style, saying mass every Sunday in the private chapel. Edward and Rebecca married after Kelly left in 1885. Well, they pretty much had to, didn’t they?

Edward died in 1882; Rebecca held on until 1923. The house passed to Marmion’s nephew’s son, a Ferrers, who was forced to start selling off the furnishings to keep the house afloat. After a period of struggle, trying to figure out how best to preserve this lovely historic building, the family managed to hand it off to the National Trust.

Rebecca was an accomplished painter. Now that I’ve spent so much time on these folks, I have to show you the portraits she painted, which was not my intention at all when I first started this post!

Edward Dering
Lady Chatterton’s lover, Edward Dering

Floor plans should be mandatory

Even the National Trust booklet is better than average, with a handy floor plan right inside the front cover! Without a floor plan in the book, I have to stand in a corner trying to sketch the layout in my notebook, rigorously refusing to look up at the inevitable, helpful volunteers who stand around accosting visitors, eager to share their scanty knowledge of the worthies who last lived in the house. I have nothing against either the worthies or the volunteers, but that’s not what I’m there for. I need a hat that says, “Please don’t bother me; I’m trying to think.” A t-shirt won’t do, since in England, I’m probably wearing a raincoat.


I feel like this is turned around… You walk in through the entrance hall and work your way to the left, not the right. The rooms toward the right — the darkened ones — aren’t open to the public, dash it all!

There’s plenty of space for two artistic, religious couples, both for sleeping and for spreading out to separate corners to read, write, and paint. Lady Chatterton and Edward Deering wrote novels, by the way; romances, which achieved some critical acclaim, but never the commercial success they hoped for. They’re on the shelves in the library, which is the room that most attracted me. A really nice place to work. Or loll about reading romances.

The house on the whole felt comfortable to me. Nice-sized rooms, neither big enough to be drafty nor small enough to feel cramped, lots of leaded windows set into deep stone walls, and the long landing and gallery upstairs so you could get to your room without passing through all the intervening ones — a floor plan I particularly dislike. 


Interior pix were scanned from the booklet. Now I remember the place, I realize I would rather live in Eastbury House in Barking, and not just because I’m a city girl at heart. But Bad Clint is the model for my characters who live in their country manors most of the time, like Benjamin Whitt. We never go there in the books, but I like to know what my people are up to even when I’m not with them. Nosy, huh? They think so. (Shhh.)

Also, I wouldn’t like living in a house with a moat, not without moat people to tend it and plenty of carp to eat the algae. Then the Labrador would be in there all the time, chasing the fish. A great big mess! But it’s fun to take pictures of moated houses.

The great hall, in another of Rebecca’s paintings. Really not big enough for the roasting of oxen and feasting with many retainers. Definitely a quieter, more lawyerly, hall.
The kitchen, as it was in the early 1900s.


A bedroom, with a fireplace bigger than the bed. In Victorian times, when fuel was more scarce, it might only rarely have been lit.
And the lovely library. I could work here, no problemo.


The inner courtyard and main entrance


In case you take your boat across the moat



The gardens


A tree covered in deliriously fragrant eglantine
They have a moat AND a lily pond.







Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire. 1998. The National Trust.






The idea of electro-therapy inspired me to set Moriarty Takes His Medicine in the world of private electro_therapy2hospitals. Books often start as titles in my mind and I really loved this one: Moriarty Gets a Shock. Think of the possibilities for double-entendre!

I studied it intensively, trying to figure out ways to use that quintessentially Victorian treatment for nefarious purposes. To my growing alarm, I could not find any way to hurt even a fly with the devices of that day. I was in despair until I realized I could just change the title. And now I’m getting a blog post out of all that research.

STEM for novelists

Part of the reason it took me so long to understand the issues is that I allowed myself to learn precious little about math and science as a young person. Sheer mental laziness and entirely my fault, although a slice of blame goes to teachers who let girls slide in math class and schools whose curriculum was so skimpy I could make As without actually learning anything.

voltsIn college, I managed to get away with Self-Paced Astronomy for my science credits. There must have something else… but if there was, I’ve forgotten it. Granted, that was back when I could pay my tuition myself, in cash, out of my tips from the restaurant. What can you expect for $300 a semester?

I had to look up basic facts like, what’s an ohm when it’s at home? My notes have many entries like this: “At 120 volts, the most common household current in the United States, a 100-watt light bulb draws 0.83 amps. To calculate the amperage of a light bulb, one must divide the number of watts by the volts powering the circuit. So a 10-watt bulb would draw 0.083 amps.”

Ten watts is about right for a Victorian light bulb. But is it lethal? Apparently not.

“Amps would be the volume of water flowing through the pipe. The water pressure would be the voltage. Watts would be the power (volts x amps) the water could provide (think back to the old days when water was used to power mills).” ( That’s a great explanation. Thank you!

Then I realized that my devices would be powered by batteries. How dangerous is a battery? Well, a standard C battery has 1.5 volts and 7.5 amps. Cellphones charged from a USB cord have a supply voltage of about 5 volts, not enough to severely harm a person. Curses!

It turns out that electro-therapeutic devices measure current in milli-Amperes (mA.) That sounds very small and indeed it is. One ampere is equal to 1000 milliamperes or 1 volt/watt. You can’t electrocute anyone with a cellphone, much less one-fifth of a cellphone. Foiled again!


The Victorian devices are vividly funny, stimulating the imagination as well as the nerves, but electro-therapy turns out to be a valid medical treatment nowadays. In fact, there are increasing studies demonstrating its effectiveness in treating chronic conditions like pain, depression, and PTSD. More power to that effort, say I.

And of course we have many uses for mild electrical devices for health and grooming, like toothbrushes, massagers, hair trimmers, heart rate monitors, etc. etc. etc. You can even get an electrical abdominal toning belt! Not to mention all the people romping around with ear buds, which are tiny electrical devices too. Harmless, at low volumes.

1000 Questions

There are lots of old manuals for employing electro-therapeutic devices at Google books. Searching for electro-information prompted me to discover the wealth of period information to be found. How not? The Victorians, like us, published guidebooks, manuals, medical handbooks, and the like annually.

A wall plate

These books are fascinating and yield lots of jolly details, like the fact that doctors would test the current on their own tongues before applying it to their patients. That small fact made it vividly clear to me that the devices were wholly unsuitable as murder methods.

My favorite book was published in 1912, a good twenty-five years after my story takes place. Evidently the faith in the healing power of electricity had not diminished. Homer Clark Bennett’s guidebook was meant as a practical manual for ordinary doctors, so it was accessible and handsomely illustrated.

Bennett presents his information in a series of questions, such as those the country doctor might ask. Here’s an example.

What is a wall plate?

Many physicians want some apparatus for the practice of electro-therapeutics, which will be complete, well made and reliable, compact, ornamental and attractive, at the same time reasonable in price. The plate shown herewith contains the essentials. it is mounted in a handsome well-made oak, imitation rosewood, or white enamel case, to be attached to the wall, with glass front door and sides, and a drawer below for electrodes…” The battery cells can be kept in the next room or in a closet.

Bennett starts with some general advice. “Don’t try experiments on patients. Try them first on yourself and see how it goes.” “Use iodine preparations under negative pole in cataphoresis. Use cocaine and alkaloids under positive pole in anaphoresis.”

Decades before Bennett, doctors were even more optimistic about electricity’s potential value. As earlybennett_electro-therapy4 as 1858 doctors were recommending mild shocks to treat mental illness. The shocks they’re talking about are nothing like modern electro-convulsive therapy which is still used sometimes. The electrical stimulus used in ECT is about 800 mA and has up to several hundred watts and the current flows for between one and 6 seconds. Its side effects may include loss of memory, verbal disfluency, and memory impairment.

Back in the late nineteenth century, no one would attempt such a strong current. I’m not sure they could even produce it with any confidence. They were still debating the relative merits of static electricity, galvanic currents, faradic currents, and magnetism.

Alternated current body cage. The guy is lying on a wooden table with the current running through the cage around him, surrounding him with healing electricity.

Here’s a description of one of Dr. Wiglesworth’s cases (his real name, stop snickering): “No. 1, married; aged 23. Acute dementia of six months’ duration. Medium size plates used; kathode to forehead, anode to nape of neck. A [galvanic] current strength of 3 milli-amperes was used to begin with, and this was gradually increased to 25, the average being 15 milli-amperes for ten minutes. Usually there was a daily sitting… After 27 applications the patient became brighter, and in another three weeks had improved considerably…”

Voltage depends on resistance, but 25 mA is equivalent to 5-10 volts. According to, that old-timey phone line running into your house has a direct current of around 50 volts. I once touched a phone line when I was sitting in my crawl space installing another phone jack. (Quite the handywoman, I am!) It shocked me enough to not want to do it again, but did me no harm whatsoever.

Your ultra-modern, multi-functional, electro-therapy delivery system.

That ten minutes of seven-volt current probably felt like a pleasant, light, buzzing massage. I’ll bet that woman felt better because Doc Wiglesworth was a cutie with a soothing voice and warm hands.


Bennett, Homer Clark. 1912. The Electro-Therapeutic Guide or A Thousand Questions Asked and Answered. Lima, OH: The National College of ElectroTherapeutics.

Beveridge, A.W. and E.B. Renvoize. 1988. “Electricity: A history of its use in the treatment of mental illness during the second half of the 19th century,” in British Journal of Psychiatry (1988), Vol. 153, pp 157-162.