The first book in the Darking Hundred series, Coldharbour Gentlemen, is now available for sale! Look for it on Amazon in paperback or on Kindle. Coldharbour Gentlemen is the tale of an adventurous boy who gets more than he bargained for when he meets up with a band of smugglers. What he thinks will be just a summer lark turns deadly serious as he is confronted with hard choices to save his family and his own future . . .
These are the chronicles of a particular place—the neighbourhood of a market town in Surrey, England—in a moment of time, the year 1800. The town still exists (though its name has migrated to a more prosaic form, Dorking), and these tales are embedded in its collective memory. The factual elements are drawn from the accumulated wisdom of members of historical societies that flourish in the neighbourhood; using their research as a basis, I have embellished reality with characters drawn solely from my imagination. If the result distorts the historical record in any way, the responsibility is entirely mine. . . .
In 1800 Darking was a market town, a hub for the surrounding villages and farms. People came from miles around to buy what they needed and sell what they produced. Darking’s markets were less lively than they had been earlier in the eighteenth century—a few of its industries had died out and improvements in the roads allowed more goods to be transported to London—but it was still the principal economic engine for the hundred. Let us imagine a person travelling from the north . . .
In Anglo-Saxon times, society was organised for purposes of government into hundreds, each of which represented the quantity of land necessary to support one hundred families. In places with rich soil or other abundant natural resources, a hundred might be a very small area; but in Surrey, with its varied terrain and mostly problematic soils, the hundreds were relatively large. The hundred persisted as an administrative unit into the nineteenth century, when increased urbanisation made it a less meaningful entity. . . .
In 1801 the British government conducted its first nationwide census, which allows today’s student of history to obtain a fair snapshot of the time. The facts gathered were limited compared to the statistics routinely developed today, but nevertheless they provide a basis for the historical fiction writer’s speculations. From this census we know that Darking’s parish in 1800 had a population of just over three thousand souls. The town had no street lights, very primitive waste management and water supply, and mostly unpaved streets. The eighteenth century had seen a decline in its status as an important market town . . .