BOMB attacks, uprisings and infanticide in Sheffield?
Eeeh, says Margaret Drinkall, it’s all good fun...
“I was up at 5.30am this morning,” enthuses the 65-year-old historian. “I couldn’t sleep. I’d got to a point researching my latest book where a chap who killed his mistress was facing trial. I wanted to know what happened. So, there I was, cup of tea, dressing gown, going through these 19th century newspapers.”
And what did happen?
“He was hanged,” she nods. “Fascinating. Even if no-one read my books and no publishers wanted them any more, I think I would carry on researching. I love it.”
No-one reading is perhaps not something she need worry about.
For, as Margaret’s 10th tome is released, the former Rotherham Council volunteer co-ordinator is fast establishing her name as South Yorkshire’s premier historical crime writer.
Her latest offering, Yorkshire Villains, Rogues, Rascals And Reprobates, is a whiz through 19th century crime committed in Yorkshire taking in everything from Ecclesall child murder to Chartist uprisings in Waingate, from the outrageous Spence Broughton to the Sheffield Outrages.
And, coming on the back of her previous books – including Sheffield Crimes and Sheffield Workhouse – it looks set to be her best-seller so far.
Perhaps little wonder.
Here the reader can learn about an 1840 armed uprising where a band of Sheffield workers planned to storm the town hall, murder watchmen and establish a Chartist stronghold. Or one can find out how, in 1861, Bridget O’Rourke, of Acorn Street, was woken by a parcel being flung into her bedroom window. It was a bomb - one of the earliest acts of the Sheffield Outrages.
There’s also highway robberies, counterfeiting and treason.
“I have no idea why people enjoy reading about these things,” says mother-of-two Margaret, of Meadow Street, Rotherham. “But I do know I’m one of those people. I suppose we’re attracted to the gruesome – and there’s not many places as gruesome as Victorian England.
“I remember being driven past Armley prison when I was a little girl and my aunt telling me it was where they hanged people. I was intrigued from then on.
“I went back recently to take photos for a book about Leeds crime and I was so excited. I felt like I imagine some women do when they go shopping.”
And for the future? There’s more history for Margaret, who achieved a master’s degree in the subject through the Open University in 2008.
She’s got another four books commissioned for 2012 – including a rather less gruesome Rotherham ‘then and now’ project – and after that she hopes to do more.
“It’s the best job,” she says. “It can be sad, of course, when you’re thinking, for example, of those women who felt they had to kill their babies because they were born out of wedlock but when you stumble on something exciting like that Chartist uprising, it really is a lot of...yes, fun.”
n Yorkshire Villains, Rogues, Rascals and Reprobates, published by The History Press, is in bookshops now priced £9.99.