Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane -- The Story of the Carr's Hill Murder

My book, The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane, is published today, which is very exciting for me. It's a historical true crime book, which would be enjoyed by fans of Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Wicked Boy, but also by anyone who enjoyed the Serial podcast.
     I came across the story of the murder of a little girl while I was researching my own family history. The place where the murder was committed shared a family name and I had already traced my ancestors back to Gateshead and Heworth, both very close to Carr's Hill. There has long been a village on Gateshead Fell, just south of Gateshead, called Carr Hill but in the nineteenth century it became known as Carr's Hill because of its association with a family named Carr. This family are at the heart of the book.
I found this old photo amongst the pictures I salvaged from my Mum's garden shed. It shows what I believe to be part of Gateshead and, judging by the dress worn by the woman in the centre of the image, must date from the second half of the nineteenth century, perhaps even the 1860s when my book is set. Here she is blown up bigger:

Her dress is certainly of a shape that was worn in the 1860s. But what really fascinates me in this photo is the ghostly figure in the foreground. Every time I look at him, I think he might be a policeman. Here's a blow-up of him:
I think he must have moved while the photograph was being exposed, hence his rather insubstantial appearance, but could that be an early police tunic and helmet he's wearing? Here's a Victorian bobby for comparison:
It would be peculiarly apt if the figure were that of a policeman as I've become so immersed in various crimes committed in and around Gateshead in the 1860s. From arson to sectarian violence, sexual assault to murder, it's all in my book. The real policeman who oversaw efforts to rein in the lawless elements in Gateshead was Chief Constable John Elliott, seen here in a photo which I've kindly been given permission to use by George Marshall of

John Elliott was known as 'The Journeyman' because of his long, steady career. In my book, he's kept very busy as he was not only in charge of police investigations but also of the fire service. As there were many acts of arson around Gateshead in the Autumn of 1865, he was often to be found at the head of the fire engine as it was pulled up the steep slopes of Gateshead Fell.
     I don't want to give too much away about the crime that's at the heart of my book, but I have done some serious detective work and have come up with some insights that add to what was known about the case originally. I found it completely compelling and am hoping that people who read it will be similarly drawn in.

The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane from Quercus imprint, riverrun


Gina said...

Congratulations on the publication of your book Jane

Vanessa said...

From the audio clip and knowing your amazing detective skills, this sounds a cracker of a book to curl up with and it's on my Christmas list from today! Well done, Jane.

Helen Singer said...

Just finished reading your book Jane, amazing research into not just the crime but the social mores of the time, you cover such a lot with clarity and insight