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What Is Darking Hundred?

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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 and 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.

Dorking, engraving by John Hassell (1816). From the author’s collection.

The Real and the True

The places and houses described in Darking Hundred all existed and most can still be found on a map. I have tried to remain true to physical reality in weaving my tales, with a few minor exceptions where the temptation to poetic licence was irresistible. The reality is delightful enough: the town of Dorking is set in a magnificent countryside of fields and streams, woods and hills that afford views for miles, much of it preserved in the twenty-first century in a form that would seem at least vaguely familiar to anyone who lived there in 1800. If one mentally expunges a few railways and motorways and the occasional tract of council houses, it is possible even today to visualise the world of these stories.

View from Box Hill towards the north. Photo by the author.

          When it comes to people I have been more inventive. Many of the characters existed in real life, and for them I have made every effort to remain consistent to all that is known. That being said, bringing them to life in a novel is always a process of invention. Other characters are entirely my own creation, and although I have taken a freer hand with them, my goal has always been to make them true to their era and setting. Often I have given them names that link them to real families who lived in the area, with the notion that even if they never existed, they might have done if their families’ lives had been differently woven.

          Events in the stories are mostly drawn from local history and popular lore and represent events that ought to be true, even if they never happened. My experience of popular history has always been that it requires scant embroidery to be fascinating.

25 May 2019

Sources

Peter Labilliere, Christian Political Bee-Hive, Containing an Assemblage of First Principles, Manifestly Calculated to Promote Universal Amity and Good Government, and to secure Real and Permanent Felicity to Every Individual who hath any regard for Truth and Liberty or Pure Christianity (London, 1794).

Peter Labilliere, Christian Political Bee-Hive, Containing an Assemblage of First Principles, Manifestly Calculated to Promote Universal Amity and Good Government, and to secure Real and Permanent Felicity to Every Individual who hath any regard for Truth and Liberty or Pure Christianity (London, 1794).

Peter Labilliere, Christian Political Bee-Hive, Containing an Assemblage of First Principles, Manifestly Calculated to Promote Universal Amity and Good Government, and to secure Real and Permanent Felicity to Every Individual who hath any regard for Truth and Liberty or Pure Christianity (London, 1794).

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