Tag Archives: Victorian Times

Where Have All the Children Gone? [1985] / Where are the Children? [1996]

Where are the Children cover

Published: as Where Have All the Children Gone? Judy Picture Library #272

Reprinted: as Where are the Children? Mandy Picture Library #243

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Plot

In Victorian times, Flossie Ford is a poor slum girl that has made good and now runs her own florist shop in Cheapwell. The gentry are among her clients, including prim Miss Courtney and her bookworm brother Algernon Courtney. Flossie is particularly known for her buttonhole flowers. Still, Flossie has not forgotten her origins or her family, and can revert to Cockney, which she had to take special lessons to overcome.

Street children start disappearing from Cheapwell. Homeless, uncared-for waifs are the targets, but one exception is Flossie’s cousin Frankie Ludd, so it is personal for her and her Aunt Ada. Superintendent Spenser of the police recruits Flossie’s help because she can operate as both a Cockney in the slums and a respectable florist among the smart society; the police suspect someone in the smart society is behind the disappearances.

As the latter Flossie notices something odd when she arranges the flowers for Miss Courtney’s dinner party: one of their guests, Mr Warby-Bellowes is “one of their kings of industry”. Flossie is a bit surprised at this because Warby-Bellowes does not seem to be the sort who would appeal to the Courtneys, but she thinks nothing of it.

As the former, Flossie picks up a clue from the mudlarks that Frankie was buying a pie at Beck’s Wharf before he disappeared. At Beck’s Wharf, Flossie learns an old woman named Ma Jiggs bought the pie for Frankie, and she is now buying another pie for another waif. When Flossie asks Jiggs about Frankie, Jiggs denies all knowledge of him and says she just buys pies for waifs out of charity. However, Flossie senses Jiggs is mealy-mouthed and false, and therefore the sort who could lure children away with seeming kindness. But there is as yet no proof of this, and all Flossie can do is tell Spenser about Jiggs.

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Next day Flossie is arranging flowers for a wedding at the home of another client, Mrs Leighton, where she sees Warby-Bellowes again. A maid named Carrie tries to tell Flossie she just found out something about Cheapwell while she was home in Blackscar, a town a long way from Cheapwell. But before Carrie can say more, Mrs Leighton expresses disapproval at her maid wasting time talking to tradespeople. Later, Warby-Bellowes visits the florist shop and also asks Flossie what Carrie was trying to tell her. Flossie finds this suspicious and says they were just talking about the wedding.

At the police station Flossie finds the police are questioning Jiggs, who denies any connection with the missing children and stands up to interrogation. They are forced to release her, but both they and Flossie are suspicious of her. Then Carrie stumbles into the station, all beaten up. Carrie falls into a coma and can’t be questioned, but Flossie reports what passed between them.

A week later, Flossie goes back to Beck’s Wharf in Cockney disguise, where she finds Jiggs is no longer buying pies for the waifs. Jiggs tells Flossie she lost a good job because of her. Flossie retorts what good job that could be. Yes, what could it be – luring children off, maybe? Flossie reports this to Spenser.

At the hospital Carrie regains consciousness but is too scared to tell Flossie and the police anything. The police think the kidnappers may lie low after the scare they had, but they are wrong. The disappearances merely shift to a new section of Cheapwell, Nine Arches, and friends of the disappeared children insist they must have been kidnapped. By now the disappearances are sending waves of fear and paranoia through the street waifs and the slum dwellers of Cheapwell.

Flossie hits on a plan to flush out the kidnappers. She sets herself up as a target at Nine Arches, along with her cousin Alfie and friend Bert, and the police will be shadowing them. The kidnappers take the bait. A man named Wilkes (evidently Ma Jiggs’ replacement) approaches them. Wilkes is dressed more respectably than Ma Jiggs but looks sinister and evil, and is soon tempting them away with promises of food and warm clothing at a shelter full of “sad little souls” like themselves. They allow Wilkes to lure them away and to a closed wagon, where he locks them in and says they are going to be put to work. Flossie peeks out through the cracks in the wagon and is stunned to learn that Wilkes is in the pay of none other than the prim Miss Courtney! Presumably Algernon is involved too.

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The wagon takes them to (surprise, surprise!) Blackscar. They are put to work as (presumably unpaid) slave labour in a factory under a cruel overseer. They find Frankie, who has been badly beaten for trying to escape. They can’t escape without Spenser’s help, but he has lost the wagon and the trail. Fortunately the police pick up the wagon again and track it and Wilkes down to Warby-Bellowes. They overhear Wilkes telling Warby-Bellowes that the consignment was delivered safely (Spenser realises what this must mean) and more is promised. Spenser tackles Warby-Bellowes, who denies all knowledge about missing children. Spenser tells Warby-Bellowes he wants to pay a visit to his factories in the morning.

When the overseer is informed of this he hides the children. But Flossie leaves her calling card for the police – a buttonhole flower she put on the overseer. Spenser spots the clue immediately, orders an immediate search of the factory, and finds the kidnapped children.

The racket is exposed and stopped. The horror makes shock waves in the press, with photographs of the three racketeers on the front page. To reduce the chances of a repeat, Aunt Ada offers a home for homeless waifs. Flossie finds her shop is now even more popular and people keep asking her to tell the story over and over.

Thoughts

The racket is not unlike the one in Girl 2’s “Slaves of the Nightmare Factory”, in which a racket targets and kidnaps runaways and uses them as slave labour in a dress factory. The ways in which the children are kidnapped in both stories is very similar (lured away by false charity before being thrown into a vehicle and carted off to the slave factory) although one is set in Victorian times and the other in modern times.

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Unlike Nightmare Factory, this story is not told from the point of view of the abducted children and their struggle to survive, escape and expose the racket. It is told from the point of view of the people who are trying to find them. This gives the slave story the perspective of a detective story and a mystery that needs to be unravelled and a different take on the group slave story formula, which makes a nice change.

Again unlike Nightmare Factory, the abductees are lucky that the disappearances are noticed as soon as they start and alert people. The racketeers clearly played on the notion that nobody cared about homeless waifs, so nobody would even notice they were gone. If Wilkes has anything to go by, they may even have justified their actions in their own minds with the excuse they were doing the waifs and society a favour by clearing them off the streets and giving them employment. Of course the real reason is greed and making handsome profits by using slave labour instead of paid (if cheap) help. But they made the mistake of taking children who were not homeless waifs, such as Frankie Ludd, which did get noticed and raised the alarm. (This mistake is similar to the one the racketeers in Nightmare Factory eventually make.) The racketeers also made the mistake of assuming nobody would care about the waifs. There were people who did, including Flossie and the police.

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Flossie would make the old tried-and-true serial of a poor girl who rises above her poverty to become a great success through her talent for floristry if DCT had gone down that avenue with her. Instead, they give her the perfect vantage point to turn detective on behalf of the police in tracking down the disappeared children. Flossie has the best of both worlds for the job, with her slum origins that enable her to investigate the slums and her floristry reputation and connections to high society that enable her to investigate the gentry. She picks up clues at both ends, without which the police would never have cracked the case. And Flossie did it so well that none of the racketeers realised the florist and the slum girl were one and the same. The flowers do their part as well. Arranging them gives Flossie access to the homes of the gentry to do investigating, and Flossie’s trademark buttonhole flowers enable her to leave a call for help on the cruel overseer without making him suspicious.

Unfortunately the Courtney racketeers put on such convincing shows of respectability that Flossie did not suspect them. Flossie was completely fooled by Miss Courtney’s conduct of being a prim old maid who was so absorbed with her house, while her brother Algernon never seemed to do anything other than read books. Flossie thought Miss Courtney had probably never even heard of homeless waifs, much less know anything about the missing ones. When Flossie finds Miss Courtney out, she learns the hard way that appearances can be so deceiving. Fortunately Warby-Bellowes was not as clever as the Courtneys and made mistakes that made Flossie suspicious.

If Flossie had been a serial, there was scope to use her in more detective stories on behalf of the police, using her slum background to move among the slum areas, her floristry to probe the gentry, and leave flower trails for the police to follow. But she was a picture story library, which have few sequels.

Slaves of the Teasets (1987)

Slaves of the Teasets cover

Published: Bunty Picture Story Library #292 (1987)

Reprinted: Bunty Picture Story Library #438 (1997)

Artists: cover – unknown; story – Terry Aspin

Plot
In Victorian times, Peg Ashton’s father has died owing rent, so the landlady throws Peg out. It looks like Peg has nowhere to go but the workhouse. But then she is picked up by Mrs Grimble, a sweet-talking lady who offers her “the daintiest job” in the world, which is making dolls’ teasets from pewter.

However, when they arrive at Mrs Grimble’s teaset factory, Peg begins to get warning signs that the job is not as dainty as Mrs Grimble depicts when she sees the place is infested by rats and hears someone say “old mouldy Grimble has found another fool to slave for her”. (“Old Mouldy” is the girls’ nickname for Mrs Grimble.) Reality becomes even more apparent when Peg sees how pale her fellow workers look, and the meals consist of very substandard and badly prepared food. To add insult to injury, the girls have to pay for the food out of their own wages. If they don’t have the money, they go without.

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Peg soon finds out how unhealthy, gruelling and dangerous the working conditions really are in the “daintiest job in the world”: lack of ventilation; blistering heat for whoever operates the furnace; risk of injury from molten pewter; each girl having to make 2000 pieces in a day; no regulation on the long hours they work (no clocks to tell them when it’s time to stop); improper feeding and endless hunger; substandard bedding; picking pewter scrap out of rubbish tips; and, of course, the constant threat of lead poisoning. When a girl does get lead poisoning, which is called “the sickness”, Mrs Grimble does not bother to get any medical attention for her. Peg’s friend Tansy dies because of such neglect, but Mrs Grimble just blames Tansy for being such a weakling. She shows the same callousness when another girl, Sarah, gets her arm badly injured from the molten pewter, and fines Peg a penny when she steps in to help Sarah. Regardless, both infirm girls have to carry on working. Added to that is May Blossom, a worker who is Mrs Grimble’s toady and likes to bully the other girls. May takes a dislike to Peg, particularly after Peg tries to please Mrs Grimble so as not to lose too many wages for meals. May likes to cause trouble for Peg where possible.

At first Peg plans to seek work elsewhere when she saves some money. Then she decides to expose the working conditions instead. So when the King of Belagora visits Britain, his aide commissions Mrs Grimble to produce a dolls’ teaset for the king’s daughter, Princess Vesna. Peg seizes this opportunity to get a message out. She secretly stamps letters on the teaset cutlery to spell out “Princess help us poor pewter girls!”. Unfortunately, when Mrs Grimble catches Peg smuggling in medicine for Tansy’s lead poisoning, she does not allow Peg to finish the order. This means Peg can’t arrange the cutlery in the correct order for the letters, so the message gets jumbled.

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After Tansy dies, Mrs Grimble advertises for a replacement. An applicant arrives, and Mrs Grimble gives her the same sales pitch about the job that she gave Peg. Peg offers what help she can to the new girl against Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. The girl also asks the others if teaset making is what they really want in life. This prompts several girls to express what they would really like to be, which includes being dairymaids and embroiderers.

Then, when May causes the girl to drop and damage a tool, Mrs Grimble threatens to beat the girl. Peg intervenes and a struggle ensues. Suddenly, the aide from Belagora appears, and tells Mrs Grimble that Peg just stopped her from striking Princess Vesna. Yes, the girl is none other than Princess Vesna! Princess Vesna found the odd letters and unscrambled the message. She came to the factory in order to go undercover and collect evidence on the working conditions. The aide orders the constables to arrest Mrs Grimble and May Blossom. Princess Vesna takes the girls to more wholesome jobs in Belagora where they can fulfil the career choices they expressed earlier. Peg herself becomes Princess Vesna’s lady-in-waiting.

Thoughts

This story brings attention to an aspect of Victorian times that was so pervasive – household products out of dangerous and poisonous substances. Goods containing lead, arsenic and other harmful elements (found in wallpaper, house paint, clothes and children’s toys to name but a few) permeated the Victorian home. Even where the dangers were known, manufacturers seemed to give little thought for the wellbeing of the higher-class people buying the products. So what thought could there have been for the lower-class people who made them?

Perhaps the danger of the poison itself is the reason the teaset slavery is less sadistic and over the top than in other “slave stories” (stories where a girl or girls are slaves of a racket, prison or unpleasant business/institution). Sure, the working conditions are dangerous, gruelling, unhealthy and cruel. Yet we don’t see outright torture being inflicted on the girls or tortures being piled on one after the other on the protagonist, as has often been the case in so many other “slave stories”. Nor do they appear to be actual prisoners who are constantly finding a way to escape the factory, as they often are in similar stories. Mrs Grimble seems to beat her slaves far less often than a lot of her counterparts in other stories, though she is capable of it when she gets angry enough. We never find out what the penalty is for not meeting the quota of 2000 pieces a day either, so it is a bit hard to gauge just how far the cruelty goes there.

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The relationship between Peg and Mrs Grimble never has the acrimony that most protagonists have towards the main slaver in “slave stories”. Usually the main villain develops a particular hatred towards the protagonist because she is a rebel who refuses to break and is determined to bring the slaver down. This is what drives the story until the protagonist finds a way to escape the slavery and raise help. However, although Peg does rebel (mainly in getting medicine for the sick and injured girls while Mrs Grimble does not even bother) and plots to get a message of help out, the story does not go in the usual direction of the protagonist being a constant thorn in the slaver’s side. Nor does Peg ever really incur any vicious, sadistic vengeance from Mrs Grimble for constant rebellion as a lot of protagonists in “slave stories” do. This makes a nice change from the usual slave story formula. The focus of the story is more on making a statement about appalling and often dangerous working conditions of Victorian times.

The animosity Peg encounters in the story comes more from May Blossom the toady than Mrs Grimble the slaver, which is unusual for this type of story. Just what May gets out of being the favourite is unclear as we never see her get any special privileges from Mrs Grimble. The only thing May ever really seems to get out of it is bullying the other girls – which is what puts her in prison alongside Mrs Grimble when the tables turn.

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Mrs Grimble is one of the more intriguing and curious slaver in girls’ comics. There can be no doubt she has a heart of stone and cares little for the wellbeing of her workers. Yet she can be quite the charmer and sweet talker, and really knows how to sell the job to an unwary new girl before the girl discovers the reality. Even while the girls are working, Mrs Grimble speaks to them in an almost caring, motherly way instead of being cold and harsh. For example, when Peg goes out her way to be a model worker, Mrs Grimble praises her. Mrs Grimble’s appearance also lends itself to her mother figure; when we first see her she looks every inch a sweet, kind, motherly lady. When she gets riled, it looks almost out of character for her. However, we know that Mrs Grimble is just showing what she is really like underneath a mealy-mouthed façade of motherliness and kindness that makes your skin crawl.

The resolution is an impressive one. The prospective helper not only steps in for the rescue, but actually goes undercover to do it, and subjects herself to the same conditions and unpleasant people who run the teaset factory in order to gather enough evidence. Moreover, she is a princess who not only poses as a working class girl but also subjects herself to squalid and dangerous conditions of working and living in the pewter factory and virtually starving on substandard food. That must have been a particularly dreadful shock for a princess who had only known the lap of royal luxury, but she didn’t flinch from it.

The plotting is tight and well paced. It avoids several of the clichés that the slave story formula often follows, which is refreshing. It seems to prefer to let the working conditions and callousness of Mrs Grimble speak for themselves, and have the added threat of constantly working with a dangerous and poisonous substance take the place of over-the-top tortures that so many “slave stories” go in for. It’s also more realistic for the Victorian setting, as back then working with poisonous substances was all too common.

School of Shadows (1995)

School of Shadows cover

Bunty Picture Library: #393

Published: 1995

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Plot

The pupils of Ratcliffe Park Boarding School are temporarily relocated to Ratcliffe Manor when their school needs repairs because of structural damage from flooding. There are whispers from a couple of pupils, Emma and Mags, that the manor is haunted. Sarah and Sally, the protagonists of the story, don’t take the rumours seriously. But they are disturbed when they see the portrait of the stern-looking Lavinia Wykes, whose family were the first owners of the manor, and marvel at what a contrast it is to Lavinia as a child in another portrait.

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Then the headmistress, Mrs Jonson, starts acting very strangely. Normally she is a kindly headmistress, but suddenly there are strange fluctuations in her behaviour. She starts turning into a Jekyll and Hyde character. At times she acts quite normally, but at other times she turns into a dragon, treating everyone in a manner that is not only extremely harsh but also Victorian in its thinking. She gives orders for the pupils to be served plain breakfasts consisting of dry bread and porridge. New rules are installed, and the girls are shocked and surprised at how severe they are: uniform to be worn at all times; no talking after lights out; no food in the dorms; no wandering around inside the house; and other rules listed that are not described. The caretaker doesn’t fare much better. When the school first arrives, Mrs Jonson tells him not to worry about cleaning the difficult-to-clean Victorian style windows. But then she does a very angry U turn, demanding they be cleaned “my good man!”

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Sally and Sarah put her behaviour down to the stress of the move, and Mrs Jonson is indeed taken ill. But when the deputy head, Miss Greg, takes over, she starts acting the same way. When Mrs Jonson returns, she seems to be herself again and even gives the girls pop posters for their dormitory. But soon the same thing starts again.

Things get weirder and weirder. When sent to the upstairs room for detention, Sally and Sarah rapidly discover there is something strange about it. It is inexplicably hot, and soon there are strange lights and voices crying “No! No! No!” in the room. In the school grounds they encounter a strange apparition and catch the words “…and I will not tolerate it!” in a voice they don’t recognise.

Sally and Sarah now think it is time to look up the history of the manor. They search newspapers in town, which yields information that the Wykes family built the manor as a private house. Thirty-five years later it was converted into a girls’ boarding school, with Miss Wykes as headmistress. Two years after that, a fire broke out in a dormitory, killing Miss Wykes and several pupils.

Now Sally and Sarah believe the manor really is haunted after all, and the ghost of Miss Wykes has possessed Mrs Jonson (and Miss Gregg during her brief stint as headmistress). When they tackle Mags for information on what she said about the manor, she says she was just embroidering rumours she had heard from her gran.

The abnormal change in Mrs Jonson gets worse and worse. She even starts looking like Miss Wykes, calls herself Miss Wykes, and redecorates her office in a Victorian style and switches to kerosene lamps because electric light hurts her eyes. She also gets flummoxed when she encounters computer technology, but then seems to recover herself and tackle it comfortably. She had given the girls posters to decorate the dorm with, but then tears them down when she turns into the dragon that seems to model itself on Miss Wykes.

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By now the headmistress’s behaviour has spread confusion and fear through the pupils. Because of it, they hate being at the manor and are desperate to go back to their own school. Sarah and Sally don’t want to start a panic by telling them what they think is happening, but they do take a third girl, Jane, into their confidence.

During another Wykes possession, Mrs Johnson scolds the girls for reading by candlelight in the dorm again – when there are no candles at all. At this, Jane, Sally and Sarah suspect that candles in the dorm started the fire.

They discover that records from the Wykes school are stored in the upstairs room – where the inexplicable heat, noises and lights are centred. That evening, they investigate the records, while the heat and noises start up again. They suspect this is because the original dormitory was located in the upstairs room, and where the fire started. A blueprint of the original school confirms their suspicions.

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They then come across a teacher’s journal, which lists the same set of rules that Mrs Jonson set up. The journal reveals that the fire was indeed started by pupils reading by candlelight in the dorm, which they often did because Miss Wykes frequently punished them by sending them to bed much too early. It goes on to say that the manor had been a sinister place since the fire and would have been better off burning right to the ground.

Then the girls discover that the day is an anniversary of the fire, which can only mean that something terrible is going to happen. Right on cue, the voices start up again and a notebook starts floating. They realise that another school on the premises must have been what sparked it all off. They head off to the headmistress’s office, hoping to convince her that they are in danger. As they do so, they feel they are being followed.

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They find no headmistress – but her office is on fire! They sound the fire alarm and the school evacuates. They hear another “No! No! No!” coming from the upstairs room, this time in Mrs Jonson’s voice. They find her in a very strange state, and she drops her lamp, which starts more fire that is not affected by fire extinguishers. The girls feel that these are not ordinary flames, and the fire brigade does not fare any better against them. This time the manor does burn to the ground, and the girls realise that the journal was right to say that it should – it is the only way to purge the ghosts. Mrs Jonson returns to normal and everyone is safe. The protagonists don’t dwell on wondering exactly what happened at the School of Shadows – they are just glad to see the end of it and return to their own school.

Thoughts

The harshness of old-style school discipline, particularly among principals who take it too far, or even let it turn into downright child abuse, has been a frequent one in girls’ comics. It often makes grim reading and a salutary lesson in not what to do in education. But when it is combined with the supernatural, as it is here, it makes for the most disturbing but compelling reading.

The haunting at the School of Shadows is all the more frightening and effective because the ghosts are kept obscure and it is never made clear just what the haunting is about. There are no supernatural beings actually appearing to frighten everyone, apart from the one in the grounds. No apparitions appear to speak to anyone, whether it is to make demands, threats, requests, or offer explanations and help. The ghost of Miss Wykes does not appear in person; you just get the impressions of both the ghost and the tyrannical headmistress it was in life, through its possession of Mrs Jonson. But this makes the haunting even scarier.

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The ghost in the grounds is the only apparition to actually appear in the story, but just what it is – it does not even look like Miss Wykes or the pupils who died in the fire – what it wants, or what it means by “And I will not tolerate it!” are not clear. It does not even bother to actually scare the girls; it just drifts by them as if they don’t exist. Its purpose in the story is difficult to understand and it does not square with who is supposed to be haunting the manor. One gets the impression that Bunty was gilding the lily a bit there.

However, there are few nice touches about the haunting of Miss Wykes. The first is the glimpse of her as a cute-looking child in one portrait that is such a contrast to the formidable, unsmiling headmistress she has become in the portrait that unnerves the girls. So often do these stern, hard teachers that we see in so many serials forget that they were once children themselves, just like the kids they rule with a fist of iron. And the reader also gets a reminder that a horrible headmistress was a child once – something you don’t see every day in girls’ comics.

There are also dashes of faint humour that the tyrannical ghost of Lavinia Wykes is getting a bit of 20th century culture shock while she possesses the body of Miss Jonson. One occurs in the computer room where she is completely thrown by all the computer technology, and we get the impression she had to retreat there and let Miss Jonson return. Another occurs in her office where she can’t bear modern electric lighting and insists on the old-fashioned lamps.

The girls don’t dwell on pondering exactly what went on at the manor, but we will take a moment to do so. First, there cannot be much doubt that the combination of the upcoming anniversary of the fire and the presence of another school on the premises was enough to stir up the ghosts. Plus, it must have been a miserable school with the harsh, intolerant Lavinia Wykes as headmistress (mind you, we have seen worse in girls’ comics).

It certainly looks like Lavinia Wykes was reliving her time as headmistress through her possession of Miss Jonson – but for what purpose? Was the past just replaying itself through the guest school because of the upcoming anniversary of the fire? Or did the ghost(s) have an ulterior motive? For example, did Lavinia Wykes want to relive her time as headmistress all over again? Or did she react badly to the sight of the modern, progressive school and its easy-going headmistress and set out to impose her ideas of discipline on the school? Clashes between strict old-fashioned schools and progressive modern schools have occurred before in girls’ comics, such as “The Girls of Liberty Lodge” in Tammy and “Dracula’s Daughter” in Jinty. If Lavinia Wykes had been alive, there would certainly have been feuds between her and Miss Jonson over the way a school should be run.

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Or were the ghosts out to exorcise themselves by recreating the past and then the fire? It is strange, the way the fire that destroys the manor does not seem to be an ordinary fire, and resists all attempts to extinguish it. But the ghosts don’t seem to be out to kill anyone with the fire, as there is no there is no attempt to stop them escaping with their lives.

There is no way to know for certain because there is not enough information given about the ghosts and their motives. Like the girls, we only know for certain that the ghost of Lavinia Wykes is no more by the end of the story, and are so glad.

 

 

 

Wee Slavey

  • Wee Slavey – First appearance: Judy: #249 (17 October 1964)

Plot

In Victorian times, Nellie Perks works as a maid servant for the Shelby Smythes. The family consists of;  William, Amelia, their daughters Alice and Flora, and their young son Algy. A lot of stories set in this time period would be a set up for a hard life and tragedy, and certainly the title suggests a life of drudgery but this is presented in a humorous way. Nellie has to work hard, but she is shown to be smart and loyal and the family appreciate her (even if they don’t like to admit it!). There were some ongoing story arcs but most of  the plots were standalone. There were common themes that appeared regularly;

An idea by the family ends up being more hard work for Nellie.

Often this idea would be presented to Nellie as something to make her work easier or seen as a treat!  Such as when Flora and Alice decide to go on a picnic and bring Nellie along. They tell her how nice it must be for her to get out of the house and have an easy time in the country. But as Nellie ends up carrying a heavy picnic basket, getting stuck in mud and rained on it’s not such a nice treat for her! She does get breakfast in bed after catching a chill, which she appreciates much more. Another time the girls get a new wardrobe and they give Nellie their old one – on the condition she gets it to her room herself. It turns out the wardrobe is too big for her little room and gets stuck in the door, so she ends up having to chop through it, to escape from her room. When Amelia Shelby Smythe insists on getting a new invention vacuum cleaner to help Nellie with her work, she expects it will speed things up for her, but it’s so heavy it takes twice the time for Nellie to get her work done. Luckily a missing piece of jewellery and Nellie’s quick thinking gets rid of the machine. Even when the family decide to do good and work for charity, it is Nellie and Cook that end up doing all the hard work!

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Nellie stops a thief!

Nellie is responsible for catching many crooks. Often she outsmarts the crook although sometimes it is just by luck, such as when Cook reads Nellie’s tea leaves and they say she will be swept off her feet by a tall dark stranger; it turns out Nellie stumbles upon a burglar, which is not what she was expecting the reading meant! A different time two thieves use a fake invitation by Arthur Conan Doyle to sneak into the house, it’s Nellie’s detective skills that notice a gong moved in the hallway and figures out where a thief is hiding waiting for everyone to go to sleep. [Note: the reference to Conan Doyle would place the time period somewhere between 1887 -1901]. Another event has Nellie stopping thieves using bowls and is delighted to be invited to play bowls with an upper class family in thanks. Although that does put the women Shelby Smythes noses out of joint! The biggest crook Nellie helps stop is William Shelby Smythe’s business partner Mortimor who absconded with the business funds. This is a long running plot with the Shelby Smythes losing all their money and Nellie staying on as their only servant, which shows her loyalty. At first the story arc, shows the family having difficulty but when Mortimor is spotted it is Nellie that helps capture him. She goes as far to jump on the back of his carriage and she figures out where he hid the money.

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The family tries to move up in society

The family often try to better themselves and get themselves in higher social circles. This does not always work out the way they expect and they are often surprised when it’s Nellie that ends up on top!   When the women decide to host a party in aid of  charity, it doesn’t turn out as they hope, as the priest misunderstands their intentions and invites poor people to the house, instead of the money raising ball they had in mind. In another story William is pleased when he becomes knighted  in part because of Nellie’s loyalty. Although the family are surprised to see Nellie beside Queen Victoria during the knighthood (due to good timing with smelling salts before the ceremony). Another long running story has the family move to the country when the inherit Oakley estate. It doesn’t work out quite as they hope as the estate is in need of a lot of repairs. After their time in the country they return to London for the social season, but they are not happy that everyone seems to have forgotten them, but know Nellie well! Although they are still sure to remind Nellie of her place when they get the chance. They are not happy when Cousin Gerald seems to have written a love letter  to Nellie, thinking she’s getting ideas above her station, although it just turns out Gerald is just a song writer.  Snobbery gets Nellie into trouble when she saves a girl’s life but a series of misunderstandings lead to the girl’s family being insulted and the Shelby Smythe’s thinking Nellie was trying to pass herself off as one of the family. Luckily a respectable doctor who had seen what had happened gets her out of trouble again!

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Nellie is the family confidant

Nellie shows her loyalty to the family time and time again, and often she is the person the family turn to for help or to confide in. Most commonly with the girls or William, Amelia is better at keeping a distance. Several times Alice and Flora’s potential love interest have to be hidden with Nellie’s help, as their parents don’t approve. Another time Nellie helps Flora get back her diary after William accidentally picked up. Being closer to age it makes sense that the young ladies of the house would turn to Nellie for help when they are in need. An even stronger friendship seems to be between William and Nellie. Quite a few times Nellie saves William money from some of the ladies high ideas, like redecorating or she helps by getting rid of someone/something he doesn’t like (in one instance an annoying parrot). He often shows his appreciation by giving her a bit of extra money, or even paying for her photo to be taken.  When he has to make a big speech it is Nellie that he confides his fears to. William even crosses some normal social boundaries like when learning to dance he chooses her as a dance partner!

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Nellie gets into trouble or solves a problem

Nellie can find herself in difficult situations, sometimes she makes mistakes which get her into trouble, but either by luck or quick thinking it is okay by the end. Such as Nellie been having the job to clean the attic but ends up losing track of time and having fun exploring. This get her into trouble with Amelia, but William, Flora and Alice are delighted in rediscovering their old things and gets Nellie off the hook. At least two different occasions she has trouble with an  organ grinder monkey. She solves other animal mischief when cook is told to get rid of her chickens for causing trouble. Nellie buys rotting eggs in order to persuade the family they are better to have fresh eggs than rely on the shop.

Nellie experiences a harder life

Although life isn’t always the easiest working for the Shelby Smythes, Nellie could have it a lot worse. There are times when Nellie gets to see this other side. When on holiday Nellie takes the time to help a girl who works in a corrupt factory. A long running story has Nellie go to work for the Kedges temporarily while the Shelby Smythes are away. Hartley Kedge and his sister Maria, are a tough and sour pair who mistreat their young ward, Arthur. Nellie uncovers the Kedge’s plot to try and get Arthur’s inheritance. Luckily she is able to help Arthur. Another long running plot set in the early days of Nellie, which shows she didn’t have the best time before coming to work for the Shelby Smythes. When Nellie’s gran dies, her Aunt Ada takes over the house and sends Nellie to the workhouse. She has several run ins with the matron, who is quick to hit, keeps the best food for herself and runs cons. Nellie crosses path with the Shelby Smythes when they come to the workhouse as charitable ladies, but an assault and mix up leaves them working in the workhouse while Nellie tracks down William to help them. On route  she (again) saves the house from a robber who was working with the maid. After William comes to get his family the matron gets removed and Nellie is hired by the family. Which may be a big reason why she is so loyal to the family.

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Thoughts

Clearly this was a popular story first appearing in 1964. In the late 80s the story got a new artist and regularly appeared right up to the last issue of Judy in 1991. The stories were reprinted as a Judy classic in M&J and also regularly appeared in Annuals and Picture Story Library Books. It’s easy to see why – this was a fun, smart character with interesting supporting characters and while there was some common plots that appeared, there was still enough variety to keep the stories engaging. I actually started making notes to write this post ages, but then I got busy and didn’t have enough time to dedicate to what I knew would be a big post. But I definitely enjoyed rereading these stories and noticing things that would have passed over my head when I was younger, such as literature references and the suffragette movement.

Nellie, is a character that you want to succeed, she is smart, resourceful, loyal, hard working and has a sense of fun.  All the family are distinct characters; William is an upstanding honest man, who in one long plot runs as a parliamentary candidate. He is more frugal than his family and less prone to the bright ideas that make more work for Nellie.  Amelia is the most distant, as we see the family mostly through Nellie’s eyes. Amelia is most often giving instructions to Nellie and is more conscious of class barriers, although she does appreciate Nellie’s hard work and trusts her. The sisters are quite similar and are usually seen together, but there are some differences. Alice the blonde older sister is a bit harsher than Flora, particularly to her sister. Alice points out Flora’s lack of croquet skills and when they overhear some ladies comment on Flora’s plumpness, Alice keeps teasing her about it. Although in that instance Alice gets her comeuppance as it turns out the ladies who commented had got their names mixed up. Flora is also quicker to fall in love and have romantic ideas. Lastly there is young Algy who is usually away at school but when he’s home can cause mischief for Nellie and she ends up running after him a lot. There is no maliciousness in his actions though and he likes Nellie. When Nellie gets the blame for damp sheets, Algy owns up that he had accidentally splashed them.

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The other character we see most in the household is Cook. In early stories there were more servants, but Cook is the only person who really develops (Benson the butler appears for a bit). In the first episode none of the family appear, Cook is more stern than later appearances, although not as harsh as the housekeeper! Cook and Nellie often conspire together, but Cook is also well aware of their place and is quick to remind Nellie. She is also very protective of Nellie and they both help each other out.

Like I mentioned previously there are references to famous books and literary figures in the story. Nellie is shown to read The Man in the Iron Mask, she also reads Hamlet after accidentally getting locked in a shop, and shows her good memory by being able to quote it afterward! There is reference to Arthur Conan Doyle and the family go to hear a reading by Charles Dickens. The latter proves very beneficial for Nellie, as the family feel guilty for refusing Nellie some extra money, even though she has no idea why the change of heart she is grateful for it! [Note:  Nellie gets £5 a year and home and food, afterwards they add an extra shilling a week]

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There are some mixed feminist messages in the text. For the most part, Alice and Flora are somewhat oblivious to women’s movements, when suffragettes are rallying around during William’s election run, the ladies don’t have much time for them, but as they are often seen to be feather-headed, I would say this gives more weight to the cause. But mostly the suffragettes are painted as overly aggressive. This is shown particularly when Cousin Ada comes to stay. Her pushy ways, are seen to be a nuisance and Nellie finds an idea to quieten her when Tom the coachman needs help with his baby and Ada can prove that there are jobs women are better at. Still that may be more fitting reaction in the time it’s set in and having a resourceful young female who is often shown to be cleverer than her upper class counterparts, is still an inspiring character to have.

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One of Wee Slavey’s strengths was it’s great humour not just in situations but in the dialogue and expressions. Both artists did a great job at capturing the era and there is some very pretty settings and clothes drawn, but I have to give preference to the original artist who captured some great humorous expressions and moments. Such as Flora taking a “quiet” stroll soon after being called plump, so much is captured in two panels, from Alice’s smug look in the background to Flora’s look of determination and Nellie’s realisation!

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With interesting characters, humour, varied plots and great art work it’s no surprise Wee Slavey stuck around so long and became a well loved favourite.

Her Brother’s Keeper

Plot

In the 1880’s, Bess Langley became nursemaid with the wealthy Selby  family, who were unaware that their adopted son, Richard, was actually Bess’s own baby brother. Then Bess discovered that Neville Selby, a nephew who had expected to inherit the family fortune, was out to kill the baby. Bess fled with the baby to another town and took lodgings with Mrs Doakes and her daughter, Rosie, but soon discovered that Rosie was ill-treating him in her absence. Leaving the baby at the inn where she worked, Bess returned to collect her things and settle up with Mrs Doakes.

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Notes

Appeared

  • Her Brother’s Keeper–  Judy: #1578 (07 April 1990) – #1589 (23 June 1990)

The Wilsons Who Lived in a Shoe

Plot:

In Victorian times, when Peech’s Funfair closed down, the Wilson children’s father lost his job. He left for London and didn’t return. Scared of being put into an orphanage by their unsympathetic landlady, Annie Wilson and her younger brother and sister. Nicky and Sara, ran away and set up home in The Shoe, an amusement in the funfair. However, when they were confronted by the police. Nicky gave himself up in order to save his two sisters.

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Notes:

  • Art: Julio Bosch (Martin Puigagut?)

Appeared:

  • The Wilsons Who Lived in a Shoe –  Judy and Tracy:  #1412 (31 Jan. 1987) – #1421 (04 Apr.  1987)

Village of Revenge

Plot:

In Victorian times, young Jassie Jeavons  inherited a house in Cornwall from a distant relative whom she had never seen, Judge Jeavons. But the villagers of nearby Penpolder had not forgiven Judge Jeavons for his harsh judgements on many of their relatives and accidents began to happen after Jassie was threatened by an old woman called the Grey Gurney who was said to be a witch. Then Jassie engaged a young seamstress, Sal Nancarrow. Sal was brutally attacked while leaving Pendeath Point one night. Sal was wearing Jassie’s cloak and had been mistaken for Jassie.

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Notes:

Appeared:

  • Village of Revenge – Judy:   #925 (01 October 1977) – #936 (17 December 1977)

The Impostor!

Plot

Scheming maidservant Hetty Brown tricks the Honourable Harriet Mannering into trading places with her. Harriet strives to prove her identity agains the increasingly nasty tricks from Hetty to stop her, and and in the meantime Harriet is discovering how hard the life of a servant can be.

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Notes

  • Artist: Douglas Perry

Appeared

  • The Impostor! – #1946 (29 April 1995) – #1957 (15 July 1995)