I am so pleased to be part of the Castonbury Park Series, and for my characters I chose to write more about "downstairs" characters - in fact, my main characters are outside the big house altogether!
This book is number 5 in the series and I wanted to tell the housekeeper's story. Hannah Stratton is a much loved figure at Castonbury, she has seen the children grow up and has a son of her own, Adam, whom she has not seen for ten years. She has never spoken about his father, or told anyone her history, but in this book it is necessary for her to put the record straight.
The Illegitimate Montague features Hannah's son, Adam. He has been away from Castonbury for many years, making a name for himself first as a captain in Nelson's navy, then in the north of England, where he becomes a mill owner. As a manufacturer of cloth, he has plenty in common with Amber Hall, the clothier who owns a warehouse and shop in Castonbury, and I could see them both working well together in the future , making the most of the opportunities that would present themselves in the forthcoming Victorian era – once they have overcome all the obstacles that I throw in their way, of course!
Without giving too much away, I can tell you that there is a disastrous fire at one point in the story, and this started me thinking about insurance. We take if for granted now, but not so in the Regency. However, the idea of fire insurance goes back to the days of the great fire of London in 1666.
He is credited with setting up the first of several fire insurance companies formed around that time, others included the Friendly Society (1683), Hand-in-Hand (1696) Sun Fire Office (1710) and Royal Exchange Assurance (1720).
To identify that a property was covered by fire insurance, attached to the building, at a height easily seen from the street but out of reach of thieves, was a sign or emblem called a fire mark which was issued by the company. Each company had its own distinctive design which made identification of the property easier for their fire fighters and the company representatives. Designs included, for Sun Fire Office: a large sun with a face (like the image below); the Royal Exchange Assurance: their building; and Phoenix: obviously Phoenix rising from the ashes.
credit: Pauline Eccles [CC-BY-SA-2.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|