W.S. Gilbert: For the Birds (and Beasts)

Gilbert’s home at Grim’s Dyke

W.S. Gilbert was known for his irascible disposition, quick temper and readiness to fight any person whom he thought deserved to be taken down. But he had a soft spot for animals and birds of all kinds, and his home of Grim’s Dyke was also home to a wide variety of creatures.

Hesketh Pearson says in W.S. Gilbert, His Life and Strife:
“His estate became a sort of zoological gardens… In his idyllic oasis of lawns, flowers, trees, bracken, rhododendrons, fruit gardens, ferns and beehives, he had made a lake of one-and-a-half acres, and the whole place was a sanctuary for birds and animals, many of which were quite at home in his house as well.”

In Gilbert and Sullivan, Pearson adds:

“Compared with the average sportsman Gilbert was a softhearted humanitarian. For all his longing to be a despot, he had no real malevolence in him at all. He adored children and animals and could not bear the infliction of pain on either. “Deer stalking,” he once said, “would be a very fine sport if only the deer had guns.”

And when William Archer mentioned the theory that the fox enjoyed his little run with the hounds, Gilbert broke in, “I should like to hear the fox on that point. The time will no doubt come when the sport of the present day will be regarded very much as we regard the Spanish bullfight or the bearbaiting of our ancestors.”

He was not a fanatic on the subject of taking life, but he could not outrage his own sensibilities. To understand his nature we must contrast the figurative cruelty in his poems with a fond following personal confession: “I have a constitutional objection to taking life in any form. I don’t think I ever wittingly killed the black beetle. It is not humanity on my part. I am perfectly willing that other people should kill things for my comfort and advantage. But the mechanism of life is so wonderful that I shrink from stopping its action. To tread on a black beetle would be to me like crushing a watch of complex and exquisite workmanship.”

Gilbert’s library, which had French windows that were usually open. The animals strolled in and out.

His home at Grim’s Dyke was shared with a wide variety of animals: Dogs, cats, a pet fawn, a donkey named Adelina (after Adelina Patti, the famous singer), monkeys, lemurs, pigeons, turkeys, parrots, and – one summer – a bee that wandered in an open window and stayed. Gilbert fed it sugar-water, gave it a little box to rest in, and called it Buzfuz.

For several years he kept a number of monkeys, building a large house for them. His favorites were a pair of lemurs. Pearson says that on September 26, 1905, Gilbert made the following announcement:

“[There has been] a most interesting occurrence in our household. A baby, quite unexpectedly, has been born – to whom do you think? – to our two lemurs! It is the rarest possible thing for ringtail lemurs to breed in captivity. The Sec. to the Zoological Gardens… tells me that such a thing has not happened since 1881.”

Gilbert loved birds, too, and all were safe from being hunted on the grounds of Grim’s Dyke. Pearson reported that:

“The air was full of the song of birds, or to quote an invitation Gilbert once issued, “the gooseberry bushes are thickly hung with stomach aches; and while the cuckoo delights by day, the nightingale and the screech owl do their best to make the night lovely.”

Fantail pigeons occasionally hopped into the library to see what they could pick up, being partial to cigar ends, and when he smoked out-of-doors several of them would sit on his shoulder and peck at his cigar. Once half a dozen turkeys, bored with the farmyard, strolled through the French windows and took up their positions on chairs, tables and desk. Gilbert’s arrival caused their tumultuous departure with some damage to the ornaments in the room.

At one time he formed an intimacy with a robin, which came to him from any distance within call, fed from his hand, and perch twittering on his head as he moved about the garden. Siberian cranes occasionally stalked into the library, though their presence was not encouraged.”

Gilbert was a practical joker, and Pearson reports on a joke he played on his wife, Lucy:

A bullfinch, probably like the one(s) Gilbert used to play a trick on his wife

“A piping bullfinch which he had given to his wife became very tame, but one morning she noticed that it was nervous and piped dissimilar notes. Later in the day it was tame again and back to its usual musical form. This went on for more than a week, timidity and a different song alternating with friendliness and the old one.

She remained in a state of the perplexity until she found three bullfinches in the library, each closely resembling the other and each in a cage of exactly the same pattern. It was one of her husband’s little practical jokes, which he contrived with as much thought and care as he gave to the stage-management of the Savoy operas. The butler had been taken into his confidence, and one cage was substituted for another with a different bird at regular intervals.

For ten days he kept up the mystery, to his amusement and her amazement.”

(Because it fits in with my fictional stories, I like to think that Gilbert did it because he knew Lucy loved to solve mysteries. So he gave her this little mystery to solve – but that’s merely my surmise!)

Happy New Year to everyone. May 2017 bring you all the good things you desire!



Bullfinch by © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0,




Christmas with the Gilberts

Kate Terry Gielgud, mother of acclaimed actor Sir John Gielgud

Though William and Kitty Gilbert never had any children of their own, they both enjoyed the company of young people and loved to give lavish parties for the children of friends and family.

One young lady who enjoyed their parties was Kate Terry Gielgud – the daughter of actress Kate Terry and Arthur James Lewis (a silk merchant of the firm of Lewis & Allenby), and the mother of famed actor Sir John Gielgud.  In Kate Terry Gielgud: An Autobiography (1953), she explained, “Both author and composer were friends of my parents, and Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert invited us every year to Christmas parties in their house…”

Born in 1868, young Kate would have been between 10 and 14 years old when she attended the Christmas parties she described. The party held in  December 1881 included a special treat:

“…the Gilberts built a new house in Harrington Gardens with a model of the H.M.S. Pinafore as a weather-vane, and this house … had electric light installed in it, and here the Christmas tree, instead of being hung with candles and parcels, was a dazzling mass of tiny festooned globes, blue, red, green and yellow, a light within each. Parcels were heaped on the floor so as not to spoil the effect, but were disregarded in the clamour to be allowed to move the switch in the wall that could plunge the room into darkness and, reversed, restore the light in a dozen fittings at once. We gaped in wonder…”

It’s amusing now, to think that there was a time when the presents under the tree would be ignored in favor of turning the tree lights off and on, and off and on…

Children brought out Gilbert’s sense of fun. Many of his letters to children are especially playful and amusing. A few years before the awesome electric Christmas tree lights, on 20 December 1876, W.S. Gilbert sent a hand-written Christmas card to Miss Terry that read:

Christmas wish from WSG

“Wishing you both a decent, sober, temperate and respectable Christmas, undisfigured by extravagance and untainted by excess,

I am,

very truly yours,

WS Gilbert.”


Here’s hoping that your own Christmas celebrations are the opposite of all that, and very merry indeed!







The Real Lucy Turner

Why Lucy Turner?

Why, you might ask, if I am such a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, would I choose Lucy Turner as my amateur sleuth?

Because, as Gilbert’s wife, Lucy had a ring-side seat when it came to nearly everything that Gilbert and Sullivan did during the twenty-odd years of their working partnership. And because she isn’t as well-known to history as the two men, she might well have had certain adventures that are unknown to history!

What sort of a person was Lucy?

Her direct and piercing gaze

Her direct and piercing gaze

As history tells us, Lucy Agnes Blois Turner was born on November 14, 1847. Her astrological sign was Scorpio.  To paraphrase Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs, Scorpios have a crackling, electric vitality about their presence, iron self-control, and an intense and piercing gaze. Well-aware of their own worth, they are unmoved by either insults or flattery.  Passionate, loyal, secretive, suspicious, and sometimes vengeful, Scorpio natives are, Goodman says, “deeply interested in religion, intensely curious about all phases of life and death, passionately concerned with sex and violently drawn by a desire to reform.”

Such a personality would be perfectly suited to crime-solving! Not even the rigid decorum of the Victorian era would be enough to discourage a woman who felt an overwhelming need to know the truth of what happened to a murder victim and to see justice done.

Goodman adds, “Most Scorpios have darkish hair and eyes, but don’t discount the frosty blonde types, of which Grace Kelly and Billy Graham are excellent examples. Frosty on the outside, that is. The poised surface calm of the Pluto character is carefully designed to hide the boiling inner nature.” To those two frosty blonde examples, I would add Lucy Turner – and William S. Gilbert (born November 18, 1836) as well.


Lucy, according to Gilbert’s biographers

The following selections have been taken from different biographical accounts. They shed a certain amount of light on Lucy’s family history and on other people’s impression of her personality.

  • From Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography by Michael Ainger

“Lucy’s mother and father had married in India. Her mother, Herbertina Compton, was the daughter of Sir Herbert Compton, lord chief justice of Bombay; her father, Thomas Metcalfe Blois Turner, was a captain in the Bombay Engineers in the East India Company Service.  They had two other children, Grace and Samuel Compton Turner, and we expecting their third child when, on 7 July 1847, Captain Thomas Turner died suddenly, at the age of thirty-seven. At that point the Turner family took over. Herbertina’s brother-in-law, Captain Henry Blois Turner, was granted extended leave to take his brother’s family home to England.

“In the house called “The Grove” in the village of Yoxford, (in Suffolk) Lucy Agnes Blois Turner was born on 14 November 1847.”

“By 1852, before Lucy was 5, Mrs. Turner moved back to London… and they settled into 4 Marlborough Villas, in Victoria Road, Kensington.  With little recollection of her Suffolk days, Lucy grew up a true Kensington girl.”

“Gilbert found in marriage a security that he had never known. After his marriage to Lucy, there followed a creative outburst. Only four Bab Ballads had appeared in the first half of the year; twenty more would appear before the end. … Most of the Bab Ballads, and nearly all the famous ones, were written after Gilbert’s marriage, at 28 Eldon Road (their home at the time) and not in his lawyer’s chambers at Clement’s Inn.”


  • From Gilbert: His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson

The daughter of an Indian army officer, she (Lucy) was eleven years younger than Gilbert and his counterpart in temperament. With fair hair, blue eyes, a neat figure and lively manner, she was an attractive girl, and everyone voted Gilbert and lucky man when the two were married at St. Mary Abbot’s church in Kensington on August 6th, 1867.

Gilbert called his wife Kitten and always treated her with affectionate playfulness. They remained a devoted pair, their natures being complementary.

There were times when her acquiescent and conciliatory but alert nature had the effect of calming his anger when exacerbated by the behavior of others and lessening the violence of his explosions when stung by ingratitude or dishonesty…


  • From S Gilbert, A Classic Victorian and his Theatre by Jane W. Stedman

(In his letters to her, Gilbert signed himself) her “old Boy” when writing to her from camp and calling her Kitten, Kitty and (in letters) Dearest Kits.

She drew herself up to look tall

She drew herself up to look tall

She was … small and delicate, ‘dainty’ as contemporaries described her. Even in middle age, her arms and skin would still be lovely and youthful. Depending on who described her nose, it was ‘a little dab’ or a ‘dear little nose’. Her voice was gentle and quiet.

The newly married Kitten looks out at us from a photograph and from her husband’s pencil drawing with a level glance and a prettily determined chin. Elegantly dressed in later pictures, she gives a sense of dignity and erect carriage unusual in small women. “She pulled herself up to look tall,” her gardener’s daughter said of her in middle age.

…Kitty enjoyed riding; she and Willie frequently rode together, and sometimes she kept him on a short rein  … As Gilbert once remarked in Fun (17 June 1865) the soupcon of a will her own “makes fair girls still more adorable, because you had not supposed temper compatible with flaxen hair.”

…The Gilbert’s marriage was happy even if Kitty was not the subdued and submerged little person some biographers have imagined. As time passed, not only did she prove an excellent chatelaine of the ever-larger houses which her husband’s increasing income made possible, but she also became the centre of his happiness, indispensable to him, and the one person he trusted unchangingly. *

(*Stedman notes that these final sentiments were included in a letter from Mary Crawshay to “Dearest Kitty,” written just after Gilbert’s death.  The writer also says Gilbert told her he would kill himself “if anything happened” to his wife. Stedman adds: “Although this is a gushing letter and under the circumstances, likely to be exaggerative, it is undoubtedly sincere.”)


Lucy the sleuth

When I first contemplated writing mystery novels, I read that an amateur sleuth had to have two personal characteristics: A deep understanding of human nature, and a burning passion for justice. With a personality and history as described above, Lucy Turner Gilbert would make a terrific sleuth.

I hope you will agree with me, and join me as I tell of Lucy’s adventures in Victorian London, from respectable drawing-rooms to glittering theatrical performances!




Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: A Book Review

MrsRobinsoncoverWhat I’m reading now: Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady, by Kate Summerscale.

This is a masterful reconstruction of the life and times of Isabella Walker Robinson, a well-educated upper-middle-class British woman married to a cold and difficult second husband.

No doubt many other women in the 1850s felt as lonely and frustrated as Isabella did – but she poured out her feelings in her diary. On its pages she confided her deepest secrets, including her hopeless passion for Dr. Edward Lane, a married man. Their two families were friendly, with the adults spending many long hours walking and talking together while their children played.

In 1857, the new Matrimonial Causes Act made divorce possible for middle-class Britons.

In 1858, Henry Robinson found and read his wife’s diary.

Outraged by the passionate outpourings of sensual desire that Isabella had written and convinced that they amounted to infidelity, Henry sued his wife for divorce under the new law. The trial was a public scandal and her diary was read out in court.

Mrs. Robinson’s diary threatened the Victorian ideals of womanhood. Was she a sign of the decline of the morals of a nation? How many other seemingly proper Victorian wives were secretly harboring lawless sexual fantasies and wicked cravings?

In this fascinating true story, one woman’s longing for passion, learning, and companionship rocked the very foundations of a society clinging to rigid ideas about the workings of the human brain, the rights of women, and the institution of marriage.

I picked this book up at my local library, because I have read—and enjoyed—Kate Summerscale’s bestselling The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, about the creation of Scotland Yard’s Criminal Investigation Division and one of the first modern detectives, Mr. Whicher, who correctly solved a horrific murder mystery in the 1840s. I’m enjoying this book just as much, if not more.

Isabella Robinson was a poetess, whose social circle included such notables as author Charles Dickens, obstetrician and pioneer anesthetist James Young Simpson, publisher Richard Chambers, and phrenologist George Combe. Her first husband, Edward Dansey, died of a brain tumor, leaving her a widow with a young son after only five years of marriage. Two years later, she met Henry Robinson, whom she finally married after he proposed for the third time. In the book, the author quotes from a letter Isabella wrote: “I suffered my scruples & dislike to be talked away by others.” No doubt she wanted more out of life than the restricted society of her parents’ home – being married was the closest most Victorian women ever got to independent adulthood.

hebe 001

Herbertina Compton Turner, Lucy Turner’s mother. Born and raised in India and the daughter of the Lord Chief Justice of the Bombay Presidency, she remained a widow after her husband’s sudden death in 1847.

As a rule, during the Victorian era most unmarried or widowed women lived in a male relative’s house, if the family was of middle class or higher standing. In that regard, Lucy Turner’s mother Herbertina Compton Turner was unusual. Widowed suddenly in 1847 after ten years of marriage and with two children and a third on the way, Lucy’s then-32-year-old mother was brought from her native India to Suffolk, where the Turner family had a large farmhouse. But after five years of living under her in-laws’ roof, Herbertina Turner moved herself and her three children to Kensington. She bought a villa on Victoria Road, where she raised her children and spent the rest of her life as widow. She lived to the ripe old age of 98 and was widowed for 66 years, even longer than Queen Victoria herself. Mrs. Turner evidently made the right choice not to marry a second time. Lucy Turner was close to her mother all her life, and Mrs. Turner will help (and sometimes hinder!) Lucy’s fictional investigations.


I highly recommend Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady to anyone who wants to read a fascinating account of one woman’s life and struggles during the mid-Victorian era.




Skittles the Victorian Courtesan

In the first of my upcoming mystery stories featuring Lucy Turner and William Gilbert, Lucy gets to know the Duchess of Sanditon, a young woman with a checkered past – before marrying her older, war-hero Duke, she had worked as a “pretty horsebreaker” just like the famous real-life courtesan, Skittles.


Catherin “Skittles” Walters

Who was Skittles, you ask?
Skittles was the nickname of Catherine Walters, Small and slender with blue gray eyes and chestnut hair, she was exceptionally beautiful and dressed with excellent taste. Her personality has been described as bubbly, outspoken, direct and bawdy, as well as affectionate and sympathetic even toward lovers who had left her. She never wrote any tell-all autobiographies, and seemed to remain on good terms with the men she’d had affairs with.
She was born in a drab and dirty dockside house in Liverpool on June 13, 1839. Her mother died when she was very young and her father, described as a custom employee, was apparently a heavy-drinking man. Her nickname is said to have been gained from the time she worked setting up skittles, a type of bowling pin, in a bowling alley.  At some point in her childhood she became an expert rider.
No one knows for sure where Skittles first learned to ride. Maybe she worked as a bare-back rider in a traveling circus, as one story had it. Or maybe she got a job in a local stable and taught herself to ride while exercising the horses. The fact was that she loved horses and could out-ride and out-hunt most men.
She arrived in London as the 16-year-old mistress of George, Lord Fitzwilliam. He set her up in a pretty London townhome and when the relationship ended, he made her a generous settlement of £ 300 a year and a lump sum payment of £ 2,000.

Marquess of Hartington

At the age of 19, she became the mistress of Spencer Compton Cavendish, Lord Hartington, who was  nicknamed ‘Harty-Tarty.’ Their relationship, which lasted about 4 years, seems to have been very affectionate on both sides. They both loved hunting. He gave her a lovely little house in Mayfair and a life settlement of an annual sum of of £ 500 which the family continued to pay even after Hartington‘s death in 1908.
“A model of a dutiful aristocrat,” as Margot Asquith later eulogized him, Lord Hartington (a courtesy title only) served in the House of Commons before ascending to the title of the 8th Duke of Devonshire. He was a major figure in Liberal politics. While her lover was busy with his duties in Parliament, Catherine improved herself by taking lessons with a governess.
By 1861, she was one of the most notable women of the day, riding in Hyde Park’s Rotten Row between 4 and 7 pm during the Season. It must have been a wonderful scene to behold: The dandies of London gathered at the wooden rails that lined the Row, the ladies in their crinolines strolling accompanied by their footmen, children playing in the park, and maybe even the occasional “wicked old buck,” splendidly attired, angling for a glance under the bonnet of a respectable woman.
Her notoriety only increased when Sir Edwin Landseer painted “The Shrew Tamed,” with a pretty woman reclining against the side of her recumbent horse in a box stall. Even though Skittles didn’t pose for the painting, the model looked so much like her that people were shocked.
A reviewer in The Athenaeum, struck by its scarcely-veiled sexuality, said of the portrait:

“…the mighty agile sweep of the animal’s limbs, his glossy muscle-binding hide, all a-shine with health and horsehood, the powerful hoofs, the eye of subdued fire, the strong, unmastered neck, that turns graceful in its vigour, towards the slender lady reclining fearless among the dreadful feet as if there were no more harm in them than in her own, that peep, daintily brodequinned, beneath the blue riding-robe’s edge.”


The Shrew Tamed by Sir Edwin Landseer

After her relationship with Hartington ended, Catherine decided to move to Paris during the 2nd Empire of Napoleon III. The young diplomat and poet Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) who was 23 when they met, fell deeply in love with her but couldn’t bring himself to propose. Still, later in life Blunt and Skittles picked up their friendship again, writing letters until her death.
She returned to London after the fall of the 2nd Empire, and spent her time hunting and holding Sunday afternoon tea parties which were attended only by men. She was close to Prime Minister William Gladstone and had a brief affair with Bertie, the Prince of Wales. The prince wrote her 300 love letters, which she returned to him after their liaison had ended. In gratitude, he gave her a lifetime pension.
She met her final beau, Gerald de Saumerez, when he was 16 and she was 40, and when she died in 1920 at age 81, she left her estate to him.
So that is Catherine Walters, the inimitable Skittles. In my story, I’ve borrowed some of Skittles’ life story for the fictional character that Lucy Turner and her mother meet. The mystery that Lucy and her mother – and William Gilbert – will face is, who is trying to murder the young Duchess of Sanditon? Is anyone actually trying to bump her off, or is it all in the Duchess’ mind?

Soon you’ll be able to find out!

Christmas, Victorian-style

During the Victorian era, Christmas became centered around the family. Celebrating the holiday became a matter of bringing together the whole family to share in the feasting, gift giving, entertainments and parlor games.

victorian-xmas-royalsThis is thanks in large part to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Illustrated London News in 1848 showed a picture of the royal couple and their young family (the couple had had six children by then: Victoria, Albert Edward, Alice, Alfred, Helena and Louise) celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree, and soon Britons adopted the Germanic tradition of having a tree lit by candles and adorned with home-made decorations including tiny baskets of goodies, fruits, and small wrapped gifts.

Another British tradition that began in the Victorian era was the “Christmas cracker,” a small package filled with treats that made a cracking or snapping sound when opened. The Christmas cracker was created in 1848 by British confectioner Tom Smith after a visit to Paris, where he noticed Parisian confiseries selling sugared almonds wrapped in twists of paper. Nowadays, Christmas crackers usually contain a colored paper hat shaped like a crown, a small toy, a plastic figure or other trinket and a joke or other saying on a small piece of paper. The paper crowns are usually worn while eating Christmas dinner.

The Victorians also gave us the tradition of eating roast turkey at Christmas dinner. Other meats, including roast beef and goose, were common main dishes at the holidays, but upper-class Victorian families began featuring turkey as the centerpiece of their festive meal. The roast turkey soon caught on among the middle classes as well, because its larger size made it a good choice for a large family celebration.

santa-1Gift-giving became more elaborate as the Victorian era progressed. Originally gifts were modest and hand-made, sometimes small enough to be hung on the tree itself, but as the decades passed they became bigger and found a new place under the tree, rather than on it. Handmade gifts were still considered preferable to store-bought, but perhaps a savvy gift-giver could find something handmade for sale! As the leisure of middle- and upper-class women increased, many became more involved in crafts and hobbies, producing large quantities of hand-crafted items that they could either use, give as gifts, or even sell at charity events like Christmas Bazaars sponsored by their churches or other groups.

Christmas carols – and visits from “the waits” or carolers – were also a tradition during Christmastime. A number of carols that we love and sing today originated in the Victorian era, such as

1843 – O Come All Ye Faithful

1848 – Once in Royal David’s City 

1851 – See Amid the Winters Snow

1868 – O Little Town of Bethlehem

1883 – Away in a Manger 

onlyadancinggirlComposer Arthur S. Sullivan also contributed a few tunes to the Christmas mix. He wrote four carols: “I Sing the Birth” (1868), “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (1871), “Upon the Snow-clad Earth” (1876), and “Hark! What Mean those Holy Voices,” written in 1883.

Our heroine, Lucy Turner, will soon meet Arthur Sullivan as she embarks upon her mystery-solving career. But in 1866, they have barely met — and William S. Gilbert doesn’t meet his musical partner until 1873.

The cold, cold winter of 1866 will see lots of changes in the lives of these three, so I hope you will stay tuned! Until then, have a very happy holiday!




An Interview with Lucy Turner

Lucy Turner in 1866

Lucy Turner in 1866. From Gilbert His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson.

Allow me to introduce you to Miss Lucy Agnes Blois Turner of Victoria Road, Kensington. All Lucy really wants is to be the mistress of her own destiny.

Sadly, in the Year of our Lord 1866, young ladies – especially those who are members of the large Turner clan, with sisters, aunts and cousins that are reckoned up by dozens – are distinctly NOT encouraged to become mistresses of anything! The Victorian ideal of womanhood is the Angel in the House, sweet and modest, caring and self-effacing –   although it is likely that, in the Turner family, this ideal is honored more in the breach than in the observance.

Today, The Author sits down to have a little chat with Lucy about her life. Could it be possible that Lucy herself doesn’t know that in the very near future, she will be embarking upon the most unladylike adventure of her life?

If only she had known…


Lucy: How do you take your tea? And please take a piece of gingerbread – it’s a special Turner family recipe.

The Author: Why, thank you! No sugar, just a splash of milk. I’m glad you don’t mind telling me all your secrets.

Lucy: No, not at all. There’s simply not much to say. (holding milk jug poised over the cup) Is it not unusual for an American to take milk in her tea? That is what I have been told.

The Author: Yes, well, I don’t usually … but when in Rome, you know. That is to say, in England people take milk…

Lucy: Oh, but you don’t have to. And if you’d like just a tiny amount of sugar, I certainly won’t tell anyone!

The Author: Okay, as long as it’s just between us.

Lucy: How exciting that you are an American! I’ve never traveled anywhere outside England. Tell me where you are from? Is it near to California?

The Author: No, it’s pretty far actually…wait. Perhaps I should ask you a question or two! What a lovely semi-detached villa this is! And Kensington seems almost like a small village, even though the City of London is only a few miles away. Have you lived here all your life?

Lucy: No, in fact I was born on a farm in Suffolk. My mother, sister and brother were staying with our Turner relatives there after their arrival from India, and I was born a few months later. But Mama bought this house in Kensington when I was only five, so I have grown up here.

Another photo of young Lucy. From Gilbert His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson.

Another photo of young Lucy. From Gilbert His Life and Strife by Hesketh Pearson.

The Author: I’m surprised your grandfather Turner allowed your mother to set up her own household. He seems like an autocratic old gent who believes women ought always to live under masculine supervision.

Lucy: He could hardly stop her! Mama has her own money, you know, which she inherited from her father, Sir Herbert Compton. He was the former Lord Chief Justice of the Bombay Presidency. In her youth, Mama was known as the Belle of Bombay. We would be living in India still if it hadn’t been for my father’s untimely death, just a few months before I was born.

The Author: I’m so sorry for your loss. You said you had a brother and a sister?

Lucy: Yes. Grace is the oldest. She’s married now. My brother Samuel is in the Army. So at home it’s just Mama and me. And Malli, of course.

The Author: Who is Malli?

Lucy: She is Mama’s closest companion. Malli was Mama’s aya when she was a girl and her lady’s maid after she married. Then she was our aya – Grace’s and Samuel’s and mine – when we were young, too. Now she keeps house for us.

The Author: What activities do you like to do? How does a young woman keep herself busy all day?

Lucy: Oh, any number of things! I love to ride horses. We have a riding stable directly across the street from our home and Hyde Park is just the other side of Kensington Road. I also read a great deal. And naturally Mama and I must pay endless calls on our friends and acquaintances. But they are more Mama’s friends and acquaintances than mine. Mama is also very active in our church. In fact, Mama practically runs the Ladies’ Auxiliary single-handed, no matter what our neighbor Mrs. Gilbert says.

The Author: Who is this Mrs. Gilbert? What is she like?

Lucy: Oh dear. Would you like some more gingerbread?

W.S. Gilbert in 1861 (West Yorkshire Militia) from Gilbert His Life and Strife, by Hesketh Pearson

W.S. Gilbert in 1861 (West Yorkshire Militia) from Gilbert His Life and Strife, by Hesketh Pearson

The Author: No, thanks. Wait, that wouldn’t be the Mrs. Gilbert, whose son is William Schwenk Gilbert? That tall, blonde barrister who writes that funny poetry called the Bab Ballads? I love his drawings, too — some of them are on this very blog. I heard that Lewis Carroll asked him to draw the artwork for Alice in Wonderland, but had to fall back on another artist called Tenniel when Gilbert turned him down.

Lucy: Yes. He has written quite a lot of funny and clever pieces, not just the poems. And he is working on a play, too. Or so I’ve been told. I don’t really know him.

The Author: It sounds as if you know a lot about him.

Lucy: Oh, no! He’s just a gentleman who … who one knows. I daresay he doesn’t even think of me. I’m quite a bit younger than he is. Nearly 11 years. But not quite eleven years – several days short of the total. He was born on 18 November 1836, and I was born 14 November 1847.

The Author: Do you like him?

Lucy: Do have some more gingerbread. It’s a family recipe.

Lucy Turner is the heroine of my new, upcoming historical mystery series, which will debut in 2016! Stay tuned for details.