The Inspector Drewes Thrillers by Mel Hodgkinson
The county of Bartonshire, along with the town of Chettingham where Inspector Drewes lives and works, and other places, are, of course, fictional. And yet, it is placed amongst the real world. Wales, for example, features prominently in Dead Ends, and the Sankey Brook Coal Company mentioned in the same story existed in St Helens, now in Merseyside, at the time the events in the novel occurred. By creating a fictional county, the ability to have some leeway regarding geographical locations was made possible. Yet Bartonshire is strongly inspired by Shropshire, Chettingham by its county town Shrewsbury, and much of the places mentioned in the stories have their counterparts in reality.
Chettingham’s police station would, if it existed, be located in Market Street in Shrewsbury, where the actual building was to be found in the 1860s. St Jude’s, where Nunnington and Allburton spend much of their time, was the Salop Infirmary (later changed to the Royal Salop Infirmary in 1914) and now the Parade Shopping Centre. Drewes lives in lodgings on Claremont Street, and Withers shares with other policemen in a building on St Michaels Street. Nunnington’s house and surgery in Shattered Clues is within the Cherry Orchard district of Shrewsbury, and Wither’s sister dwells in the Meole Village area. The mere in Shrewsbury was the inspiration for the boating lake in His Last Confession, though it has doubled its size in its fictional setting, and The Lion Hotel has been transformed into The Boar in Shattered Clues. Henshawe Street in that story has replaced Belmont Bank, which also lies to the back of the hotel.
Ogilvie’s mansion, also in His Last Confession, is Attingham Park, albeit placed a little nearer to Chettingham than the actual place is to Shrewsbury. A National Trust property since 1947, in the 1860s it was owned, though not lived in, by William Noel Hill, the 6th Baron Berwick, a man whom Ogilvie is meant to bear no comparison to. The candle factory can be observed in the Ditherington Flax Mill building in Shrewsbury, a prominent factory of that industry during much of the 19th century and later a maltings before closing completely in 1987. Shrewsbury’s canal, long since dried up beyond a few stagnant stretches, which originally was situated by the Flax Mill has been replaced by the River Severn being diverted for the purposes of the story. The factory’s shop in the town is Candle Lane Books on Princess Street, whilst the chemist, Yeardley, lives in the Greenfield area of Shrewsbury, and Devage and his wife are living in the Kingsland area of that town.
The railway company in Dead Ends was based on the Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway Company of that time, a venture which enjoyed considerably less success than their fictional parallel. Like the West Bartonshire Railway, the Shrewsbury and North Wales company originally started out transporting minerals from Wales before expanding to a passenger service. By 1877 it had gone into receivership. The cottages lived in by Burfield and Hurkins within Dead End would not, in reality, be built for another 20 years at least, though they were also constructed as homes for the railway workers. They can be found in that area close to Shrewsbury cinema known colloquially as the “Back of the Sheds”.
Moving out of Chettingham, Dawfield was based on the village of Clun, though its distance from Shrewsbury is rather more than 20 miles. Sidbury is the town of Ludlow, yet the wine merchants owned by Edward Smythe in Shattered Clues is based on the Tanners Wine Merchants in Shrewsbury. The business in Wales which provides Inspector Drewes with some vital information in Dead Ends was the Glyn Rhonway Slate Company. In 1874 Orlando Webb, director of that place, gave evidence to the Select Committee of Explosive Substances in Parliament. The written accounts of which provided significant help when writing the story.
Finally, two names were inspired by real world parallels, one subconsciously, the other deliberately. Withers was named after the Graham Withers solicitors on Town Walls, Shrewsbury, a business I pass on frequent occasions and whose name undoubtedly stuck in my head when I was writing the first narrative. Mrs Downes, the housekeeper to Edward Smythe, was called after a name on an inscription on that same road. In 1740 a section of the actual town walls was repaired with the help of the mayor and two coroners, one of whom was Arthur Downes.
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