Martin's Adventures in the Archives...Part 2


These notes were written on various dates throughout (mostly) 1950 when Neill was still living in Cheltenham. Mist over Pendle had been written and (presumably) accepted for publication by Hutchinson, but was not yet in print when the first notes were written. Moon in Scorpio was almost certainly in hand. Comments in italics

January 7 1950

Jack, a roistering fellow, has an affair with Jill, a red-headed beauty of a similar temperament. The pair fall out. In a huff, Jill marries a decent, unexciting person. Jack, now possibly married to another, moves into the same area where Jill lives. Clearly inspired by the Nursery Rhyme

January 10

A note in Latin and a note concerning the Headquarters of the Green Ribbon Club. I cannot read Latin. The Green Ribbon Club note pertains to Moon in Scorpio.

January 16

A and B are about to be wed. C wants A and D wants B. C and D hatch a plot to separate A and B. C and D share a mutual dislike and mistrust for each other. Set in some unscrupulous period. 1680S? Then what?

January 22

Tale from a book on Spiritualism – an Innkeeper on the Dover road c1670 fawns on travellers, but murders some for their valuables. Add a highwayman either using the Inn as a base or passing himself off as a rich traveller. Inspiration for the Royal Oak and the highwayman Ryder in Rebel Heiress.

January 29

From Radio Times, re Handel and his dispute with the Arne family.

February 4

'an imp whispers to me about the rogue Roger Appletree' – see note of May 12 1949 and Deposition in the Record Office of Gloucestershire. The May 12 1949 note has not been preserved.

February 20

recounts a fever dream whilst ill in bed of a sore throat. Vision of a country rectory in the late Queen Anne/Early George I period. No plot, just the setting.

March 27

Sketch of situation for Rebel Heiress

April 27

a religious themed idea. A Papist family takes in a priest, who subsequently moves on. The family then learns that the priest may have been an imposter. The family are concerned as to the possible effects, and the various secrets different members have confided in the priest.

April 29

The story of Partridge the astrologer and the hoax played upon him

May 7

Mr Lawley – two opening lines – a possible Tory Churchwarden who supported the Glorious Revolution but now pines for the days of Charles II. He is very restive and regretful. A Non-juror neighbour pricks his conscience, whilst a supercilious Whig pricks his temper. Sly agent of James. Lawley is the family name of Mally in Black William, together with that of her Uncle John. Mr Peavy therein is a Non-Juror parson.

September 16

possibilities in the Burton witchcraft case of 1597. The case of Thos. Darling, a victim of blackmail, John Darnell, exorcist, 'a sufficiently picturesque scoundrel'.September 20

September 20

Gilbert Burnet of Salisbury: a young parson, high church and Tory leaning when the above is appointed.

October 25

a copied inscription from wall tablets in Dursley Parish Church.

December 3

Captain Ferndale” - lengthy description of a professional gambler and Jacobite agent. Ferndale is the model for Tony Marriott/Colonel Storm in Black William. Neill's note is exact as to Marriott's eventual role in the novel, although Ferndale was clearly conceived as the central, indeed Title, character of his own novel.

Undated note

A list of possible titles, all taken from chapters in (unidentified) Victorian fiction:

Sir John's Last Card


The Last Hope

The Lifted Veil

The Turning Tide

The Stormy Petrel

The Moving Finger

Cut for Partners

The House in the Mist

Whilst some of the above seem suited only for chapter titles, others offer intriguing notions for books unwritten. Titles such as The Stormy Petrel and The House in the Mist are a little mundane, but I would certainly have liked to see what Neill might have done with Sir John's Last Card or Cut for Partners.

12 August 1951

a sequel to Mist over Pendle in the second Lancashire Witch case, which also featured Jennet Device

The Rye House Plot – with either a fictional character or George Hicks.

The second Lancashire Witch case took place in 1634. It is not known if the Jennet Device accused therein was the same as the nine year old child of 1612.

The Rye House Plot took place in 1683 and was a plan to assassinate Charles II and his brother and heir, James

16 December 1951

A family gathering based on a Squire's Golden Wedding Anniversary, with many generations of the family gathered to the aged couple

14 April 1952

Filmer's Fool” - an early forerunner of Rebel Heiress, concerned mainly with religious issues and the Dean in the wake of the Restoration, using a viewpoint character who is a stranger to Worcestershire. The Filmer of the Title is Sir Robert Filmer (d. 1653), author of the philosophical work endorsing 'the divine right of Kings'. His book is given to the Tantivy parson Allways, by Sir Hal Burnaby in The Golden Days.

3 August 1952

A possible novel set in 1715.Crompton, a Derby Banker, buys an extinguished estate in Lancashire.

3 February 1953

re the 1704 account by Defoe of the Great Storm of 1703 – a Jacobite tale of that year.

Undated note

A possible tale about an 18th Century pluralist divine, possible a Bishop, Richard Walton

November 1954

A novel set in Lancashire about the upheaval at the time of the deposal of JamesII. Make use of “Lilliburlero” An amusing and astonishing first appearance in Neill's thoughts about the Irish marching song, which would not come to fruition for over 20 years, when it would be the title of Neill's fourteenth novel.

The 'other half' of Moon in Scorpio, i.e. the Whig viewpoint. Equally, it would be nearly twenty years before Neill pursued this idea, via The Golden Days. Some ideas are very persistent.

It interests me to see that Robert Neill, in this period, returned so often to the idea of novels based upon religious themes and doctrines. His evident fascination with this subject, especially in the context of the Stuart Century, comes closest to being borne out in Crown and Mitre, though it is a subplot to Rebel Heiress. In both books, the competing notions of religion are political entities, and it is how they affect men's actions that matters: Neill's notes suggest a purer fascination with doctrinal distinctions for their own sake, with perhaps only personal consequences. Whether he never found a way to explore this subject to his own standards, or whether Hutchinson politely but firmly advised him that the matter was not commercially appealing is a matter of speculation, but I favour the latter!