The investigation into a Gateshead child murder reveals the Victorians - their classes, their justice and their scandals - as never before.
A Victorian Murder. A Victorian Madman. A Modern Judgement.
Gateshead, April 1866
The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane takes the forgotten case of a child murder in 1866 as a springboard to delve deeply into the pysche of the Victorians. What Jane Housham finds, in this exploration of guilt, sexual deviance and madness, is a diagnosis that is still ripe for the challenging and a sentence that provokes even our liberal modern judgement.
Set around Gateshead, it is a revelatory social history of the North - an area growing in industry and swelling with immigration, where factory workers are tinged blue and yellow by chemicals, the first tabloids are printed, children are left alone by working parents and haystack fires sweep the county in rebellion against the introduction of the police force. Into this landscape, a five-year-old Irish girl named Sarah Melvin sets out over the fell to look for her father, and a troubled young man makes a frightening leap of logic to save his own skin.
Told here for the first time, this is an extraordinary story of sexual deviance and murder. In lively, empathic prose, Jane Housham explores psychiatry, the justice system and the media in mid-Victorian England to reveal a surprisingly modern state of affairs.
Gripping - reveals a society in moral turmoil - William Shaw
Well-written and excellently researched, this chilling tale of a Victorian sex murder opens out into an investigation into the workings of the lunatic mind and the asylums which treat it - Julie Peakman