Countdown to Victorian Scandals – Where Did You Go, Sarah Ann Main?

There are just three days to go until the official publication of The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones and Other Victorian Scandals! I’m so excited! The book was commissioned in early 2016 and I worked on it all that year and into 2017, before finally submitting it to my publisher about 14 months ago. Since then I’ve been waiting impatiently for publication and now that it’s here I can hardly believe it.

To whet your appetite, here is a little snippet from the book. It is entitled ‘Where Did You Go, Sarah Ann Main?‘ and concerns a girl’s mysterious disappearance…

Benjamin and Ellen Main lived a fairly quiet life in Cardiff, Wales. Benjamin worked as a dock labourer and by 1873 there were seven children living in their humble, family home. However, in June of that year, their lives were rocked by a mysterious and baffling disappearance, all because of a teenage quarrel.

Sarah Ann Main was an apprentice milliner and fifteen-year-old daughter of Benjamin and Ellen. On 19 June she argued with her parents over something undoubtedly trivial, and stormed out of the house. But while most children would have returned when they had calmed down or when their stomachs began to churn, Sarah Ann was determined that she would not go home at all that night.

The girl walked around the streets until she reached the workshop of a Mr Reece. The man asked what she was doing there. ‘She stated she was in trouble,’ he wrote. ‘She had quarrelled with her parents and said she would not return home again. Fearing the girl might have come to harm, I told her to go and see my wife and ask if she could stay there. She went and my wife took her in . . . ’

This teenage act of rebellion led to her anxious parents asking neighbours, friends and relatives if they had seen Sarah Ann. Nobody could provide any information at all, and they grew increasingly worried. Then just over a week after the disappearance, there came something of a breakthrough. A woman by the name of Augusta Paget Brown came forward to say that she had not only seen Sarah Ann, but also knew that she was perfectly safe and well. ‘I know where the girl is,’ she told Mrs Main. ‘She should be brought home soon.’

The family were confused but Paget Brown offered no further explanation until three days later when she delivered a letter, apparently written by their daughter. The address given was Tooley Terrace, but when the family tried to find the street, they discovered there was no such address. The next day Paget Brown returned to the house and promised to help Mrs Main find her daughter. Together they travelled to Penarth but once again the trip was fruitless and the mother returned empty-handed. When yet another letter was delivered, hope was somewhat renewed, but once again the location was discovered to be false.

After so many dead ends, the family grew understandably suspicious of Paget Brown, and that was cemented when the woman turned up at their door on 25 June.

‘Your daughter is married to a barrister,’ she told Sarah Ann’s confused father. ‘They are at the Windsor Hotel and he will come to visit you soon.’ Then to ‘prove’ it, she produced another letter supposedly from Sarah Ann. In the note, the girl told her father that she had been married by Reverend George Tong at St Paul’s church, Swansea. However, after sending one of Sarah Ann’s brothers to investigate the hotel, he came back with the news that no such person had ever worked there.

By now the family were at their wits end and decided to call in the police. On hearing the story of the disappearance of their daughter and the visits from Paget Brown, officers decided to take the woman into custody and investigate her claims. She was questioned extensively during this time, but none of her stories added up.

They became further obsolete when on 5 July, Sarah Ann suddenly turned up at her parents’ house without any explanation as to where she had been or what she had done. It was soon realised that Paget Brown’s claims were utter nonsense and her misguided motive seemed likely to be one of obtaining money under false pretences.

While Sarah Ann refused to go into details about what had happened during her disappearance, the couple who took her in wrote to newspapers to give their side of the story. After explaining that the girl had told them of a quarrel with her parents, they added, ‘The statements made to her parents by Mrs Paget Brown were entirely false, as she knew nothing of the girl’s whereabouts. I simply send you this as the reports made may have a tendency to stain the girl’s character.’

The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones and Other Victorian Scandals is published by Robinson/Little, Brown on 12 April. It can be ordered from all good bookshops, Amazon UK, Amazon USA and of course, the publisher’s website.

Until next time,

Michelle x

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