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  1. As you know, I’m interested in anything Victorian, especially if it’s to do with social history or crime, and Mark Stevens’ new book ticks all those boxes - and more.

    Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum is a wonderful collection of stories about patients at Broadmoor in the nineteenth century, delving into their case notes and other sources to create detailed case histories.

    What interested me most were the chapters on the women sent to Broadmoor, and the reasons for their incarceration. The saddest cases are those of temporary insanity, caused by puerperal mania (the Victorian term given to postpartum or post-natal psychosis), which led some desperate and unhinged mothers to commit infanticide.  

    When I wrote my book Life in the Victorian Hospital, I did some research into county asylum records, and puerperal mania was a frequent cause of female patients being admitted. What should have been a happy time for new mothers degenerated into one of despair, not least for the husbands and other children who had to cope as best as they could. The trauma did not end when the mothers were admitted for asylum care because the husbands were left to pick up the pieces and provide for their families.

    I really like the fact that Mark Stevens’ case histories are so well rounded, not just dealing with the patients themselves, but shedding light on the husbands who stood by them in spite of their illness.  

    Another interesting chapter describes the fate of the babies born in Broadmoor; this happened when female patients were pregnant at the time of their admission. As it was not conducive to a baby’s health to be kept at Broadmoor, in each instance, the medical superintendent arranged for the newborn to be sent either to the father or to the local union workhouse. Sadly, in many cases, the infants were signed over to the care of the workhouse because their fathers pleaded poverty.

    Mark Stevens’ Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum provides a fascinating insight into life at Broadmoor – a great read for anyone interested in Victorian social history.

  2. Over the past few months, I've been immersing myself in the world of the nineteenth century while researching my new book, A Visitor's Guide to Victorian England. From crinolines and corsets, to omnibuses and bed-bugs, I've been trying to find out what daily life was really like for Victorians of all classes - and not just in London!

    When researching social history, old newspapers are one of the most valuable and revealing sources to use. Not only do they report the news of the day, they also include the opinions of readers in the letters pages and run advertisements for all manner of health cures, home furnishings and time-savers.

    During my research, I've discovered that crinolines could be used to conceal stolen goods; that a furnished cottage four miles from London could be rented for two guineas a week (including piano); and that Holloway's ointment and pills claimed to cure "legs that for 11 years were swollen to nearly the size of the person's body".

    While I love browsing old newspapers online through 19th Century Newspapers Online or The British Newspaper Archive, nothing quite beats turning the pages of the real thing. 

    Yellowed and crumpled with age, and often marked with a library stamp, it's easy to imagine a Victorian gentleman thumbing the pages himself, perhaps looking for a new cook, reading the latest report from the local poor law union, or simply browsing the national news.

    I've previously found old newspapers in second-hand bookshops or on online auctions but I've recently discovered a new source of publications in excellent condition: Historic Newspapers. The company has the UK's largest archive of original newspapers, and a brilliant research facility so you can search for specific dates. This makes it perfect for buying twentieth century newspapers as gifts for birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions, or Victorian papers as presents for anyone fascinated with the nineteenth century. That could be Christmas sorted...