The Tragic Legend of St Becket of Burly

Graveyard All SaintswebCredit must go to my father-in-law Mike who came up with the majority of this story, to my friend Jacqui for giving her son the coolest freaking name ever and to my brother-in-law Jona for the inspirational photograph of his home village’s churchyard.  

In 1348, the Priest of All Hallowed Souls in Burly-the-Wath was called away to Canterbury. In his absence, a promising young monk Truman Becket assumed the duties of Parish Priest. Plague came to Burly later that year…a strange plague out of sync with the surrounding countryside. Becket became convinced the plague was no natural disease but evidence of sorcery and witchcraft. Under Becket’s direction, a witch hunt began. Eighteen in the village were burned—twelve after exhibiting signs of plague and six accused of visiting this pestilence on the village through associations with the Devil.

At this time, an abbess from the south came through Burly on pilgrimage to York. Agnes Wymark stayed to assist Becket in his duties. The two zealots fell secretly in love as they continued to annihilate Satan’s presence. Until the day Agnes herself fell ill. There were rumours her symptoms may have been the product of a concealed pregnancy, but it made no difference to her fate. When the villagers came for her, Becket was distraught. Grief and fury turned him wild, violent and so he too was believed to be possessed. After purification, the remains of Truman and Agnes were concealed in iron urns to protect the village from their enraged souls.

For centuries, their tragic tale thrived. If a baby died, old women said Agnes Wymark must have taken it for her own. When the wind off the moor howled in the church tower, old men claimed it was Truman Becket’s screams.

Then in 1563, another mysterious plague came to Burly-the-Wath. A young boy from the newly established village school began experiencing visions of a medieval monk. The boy Tom claimed the monk was showing him the way to cure the village. At first the Senior House Master dismissed these as mere fantasy. But as the days went by, more villagers died and Tom’s visions grew more detailed. One night a beautiful woman in holy robes took him by the hand and led him to a well where the monk knelt in prayer. In the morning, Tom was discovered standing by the well, staring as if in a trance, his finger pointing down into its depths.

At last the House Master and the Parish Priest descended into the well, where they found the decomposing remains of a child—the House Master’s daughter believed missing for several months. Her corpse had contaminated the water supply. Once removed, the village plague vanished. In deference to their good service, the remains of Truman and Agnes were buried side by side in the churchyard. For many years, the parish campaigned to have Becket canonised but to no avail. The village alone refers to him as St Becket, a name they gave to the new school.

Iron bars and chains still surround the grave markers of Truman and Agnes…just in case.


Fashion resources for Historical Writers

250_l_AC004844I have often boasted of just how blessed I am in my circle of creative friends and family.  When I put out a plaintive plea for assistance with adding detail to my Victorian characters in Floretta Deliverance Hughes, my brilliant costume student cousin Lizzie picked up my  thrown gauntlet with gusto.

78_l_AC09475The Kyoto Costume Institute’s online archive is quickly becoming an addiction for me now.  Almost two hundred years worth of images and historical details available at a click.  It’s the accompanying information that make this such an essential resource for historical writers.  Quick and easy way to get a basic education in fashion, though exclusively focused on women’s styles.

For a slightly more balanced approach, and a site which offers an even broader education into historical fashion, there is the Victoria and Albert museum website.


circ.96-1963_cabinet_1000pxIn addition to information and inspiration for character clothing, there are articles on furnishing styles to aid in descriptions of the rooms your characters sit in whilst wearing their fabulous frocks.  Bigger picture articles such as the one on Gothic Revival explore architecture as well.

These images here have given me some much needed inspiration.

The Many Beautiful Deaths of Miss Floretta Deliverance Hughes

It’s been far too long!  My writing life has been on hold for the last few months giving me time to direct my Sixth Form Drama students in their final performances and guide my GCSE students through their final exam.  But with the school year winding down now, I can return my creative attention to the page and pen…or screen and keyboard.

 A Circle of Lost Sisters continues the quest to howl her way into the heart of a publisher.  I have received some very complimentary rejections so far, which is encouraging considering it was my first novel.  The Vampire’s Gardener waits on the reading pile of The British Fantasy Society short story competition, which does not close for another month.  In the meantime, I have a new project in development: a ghost story.

Tentatively titled The Many Beautiful Deaths of Miss Floretta Deliverance Hughes, this new novel is also a Young Adult/Crossover Fantasy.  Like Lost Sisters, I have chosen to set the novel in a fictional Yorkshire community and most of it takes place in a school.  I have a feeling this might be a recurring theme of my work but what else is a High School Drama teacher genre geek supposed to write about?

The story begins in 1870 in the village of Burly the Wath (working name) somewhere in Yorkshire.  Floretta Deliverance Hughes is the youngest daughter of the village vicar.  Though I have a decent working knowledge of Victorian life, I am researching my little heart out to try and breathe real life into this character–before I kill her off.

As part of my research, I made a little day trip around my in-law’s stomping grounds of Newark and Lincolnshire looking for churches and vicarages and schools.  The first of many no doubt.

All Saints Churchweb

All Saints in Beckingham is a marvelous old church, complete with gargoyles, a spiky tower and a rather marvelous door decorated with icons of wolves, Tudor roses and (weirdly) something than looks like a Green Man.

Graveyard All Saintsweb

Surrounding the church is a very spooky graveyard, though perhaps not shown off to atmospheric advantage on a bright spring day.  I love this old sarcophagus in particular, with it’s strong iron gate.  Beside it, the cross fallen from its plinth, is a grave surrounded by heavy iron chains.  Why the chains?  Why the gate?  It’s as if the dead need to be restrained.  And the two are so close together, lying side by side.  Who tried to keep these two souls apart, even in death?

Vicarage All SaintswebOpposite the cemetery, the vicarage of All Saints is virtually hidden behind gates, trees and hedges.  The barely glimpsed lawn is immaculate, sweeping up to the flat and rather plain facade of the house. Is is merely privacy the reverend requires?  Separation from the riff raff of the village?  Protection from the spirits who haunt the graveyard?

This is the world of Floretta Deliverance Hughes.  A world she longs to escape.  A world in which she lives her life as if she were already a ghost in her own home among her own family.