Poppy's Dilemma cover

The cover for Poppy’s Dilemma

Whilst doing research I came to hold the Victorians in ever increasing regard, especially their feats of civil engineering. After all, they laid down a great deal of Britain’s infrastructure that still exists today. I have seen it mentioned somewhere that in the decade from 1835 to 1845, the years of the railway boom, 20,000 miles of track were laid. This included digging cuttings, constructing embankments, bridges, and stations, blasting tunnels and not least laying the track. Some feat, when you think they had no JCBs, only picks, shovels and explosives. The navvies (short for navigators), who did all the hard manual work were a tough, unruly and ungodly lot, drawn largely from farm workers and ex-convicts. There is a myth that these railway navvies were mostly Irish; there were many Irish navvies working on railways in the areas of the Scottish Borders, but not so in England. I wanted to write a story that dealt with this aspect of British history seldom covered before in a novel, and so Poppy Silk, my heroine, was born into the squalor of a railway navvies’ encampment. Poppy’s mother, Sheba, conceived her when she was 14 years old, bought by Poppy’s father, an itinerant navvy, as his bed-partner. Such a situation was not uncommon among their kind. The actual site of the historic encampments created during the construction of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton line around the Black Country I was never able to discover – research material was elusive – so in the story I sited it at what I thought was the most likely place, at an area called Blower’s Green in Dudley, at the end of the tunnel that had already been driven when the story begins. The navvies almost always were known only by their nicknames. Ask for a navvy by his real name and nobody would know who he was. They were paid by the contractor monthly, but usually spent all their wages on drink within 2 or 3 days, so were very soon destitute again. Then they would have to rely on ‘truck’ (credit) for supplies of food, clothing, boots etc from the contractor’s ‘tommy shop’. This credit would then be deducted from the next month’s wages. It is estimated that 2 navvies, working together using only picks and shovels, could shift enough earth in one working day to fill a single-decker bus! I hope you find, or found, Poppy’s story interesting. I certainly enjoyed writing it. I thank all who have indeed read it and taken the trouble to give it so many 5 star reviews.