Afterword from The Running Wolf

What’s the differences between print books and audio books? Well, for a start, audiobooks tend not to include author notes, afterwords and so on.

So, for readers who’ve bought The Running Wolf audiobook, which is my tale about the Shotley Bridge swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany, I thought I’d upload the afterword from the novel as it contains some admissions about where I’ve used poetic licence and so on. Here it is…

While The Running Wolf is based on years of research, I’ve used a degree of poetic licence. Hermann (Harmon) Mohll was a real person and he was imprisoned in Morpeth Gaol. The search for him began on 18 December 1703 and he was sent to the Northumberland Quarter Sessions on 21 January 1704, where he was bailed. The order to acquit him came from the Earl of Nottingham, secretary of state to Queen Anne, on 1 February 1704. Confirmation of Hermann’s acquittal was provided on 5 February 1704.

Hermann Mohll was a blade grinder, rather than a swordmaker, but for the purposes of my story, I’ve made him a master of all trades (a rare beast, I know) and I’ve given him a crown and crossed swords for the family blademark because it’s an emblem familiar in Shotley Bridge. There’s no evidence that Hermann and his mother liked to drink and the people in my book are ultimately creatures of my imagination. (That said, it’s worth reading Augustus Bozzi Granville’s The Spas of England: The North (London: Henry Colburn, 1841), p. 292 as Granville alleges that ‘drinking, evil ways and lack of religion’ led to the swordmakers’ demise.)

Archive documents show that Hermann sailed back to England in the company of his two sons and either one or two women, depending on whose deposition you read. For the sake of my story, I’ve dispensed with Hermann’s real family and created the fictional Anna, Katrin and Liesl Mohll and Grandmother Gerner. It seems Hermann was rather better with money than I’ve shown here as he was one of the few swordmakers who didn’t ask William Cotesworth for a loan. While Engel Schimmelbusch did die shortly after arriving in England, I’ve taken liberties with him and Pieter is my own creation. There is nothing to say that Adam Oligh and his sons were pious, that Tiergarten was hysterical or that Hermann’s mother came from Magdeburg. There’s certainly nothing to suggest that the real Frau Mohll and Herr Oligh were up to no good.

I’ve also massaged several dates in the interests of serving the story, which I wanted to end shortly after Hermann’s release from prison. Thanks to Henry Wupper, Thomas Carnforth and Peter Renau providing sureties, Mohll was granted bail a couple of weeks prior to his acquittal, but because it’s the author’s job to make characters’ lives difficult, I decided to keep him in the not-so-tender care of Robert Tipstaff a while longer. The unreliable gaoler is entirely my own invention but inspired by historic complaints of maltreatment at Morpeth Gaol.

While this novel ends at the turn of the eighteenth century, I’ve borrowed material from the future, such as the problem with Den Hayford, the steel supplier trying to take over the sword mills, and also the Bensons, to illustrate how the sword mills were struggling. If you visit the Tyne & Wear Archives to read the Bensons’ complaints, you’ll notice they weren’t addressed to Hermann but to William Cotesworth; they weren’t complaining about the Solingen men’s workmanship but about other, shoddier workers who weren’t German. The correspondence contained such lovely detail that I couldn’t resist weaving it into the story.

I think I’ve owned up to all of my writerly sleights of hand here but if you prefer your facts unvarnished by my imagination, please visit my website, helensteadman.com, where you’ll find lots of factual articles about the swordmakers and associated people.

During my archive research, I discovered a cache of documents that have not so far been mentioned in any of the existing literature about the swordmakers. My discovery of these documents means I’m able to shed some light on some unanswered questions about Hermann Mohll. My findings have been published in an academic journal, Northern History (Taylor & Francis). On my website, you’ll find details of these findings and how to get a copy.

I’ve also taken liberties with Ralph Maddison. There are no records to show that there was any trouble between him and the swordmakers, but since he was probably their nearest neighbour, their paths must have crossed. Of course, it wasn’t the swordmakers who captured him, but a troop of soldiers, who finally tracked him down in Muggleswick. For a more truthful rendering of Maddison and his ways, you might like to read The Monthly Chronicle of North-Country Lore and Legend, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Walter Scott, 1887) pp. 70– 71, which is filled with fascinating tales. It’s also worth reading the depositions from York Castle, which mention his ‘debauchery’.

Finally, on the subject of dates, to avoid confusion and untidy chapter subheadings, I decided against using old style wherein January, February and most of March 1704 would be recorded as either 1703 or 1703/ 4, because at that time, the new legal year began at Lady Day on 25 March. Also worth noting is that by 1700, while most European countries (including Germany and the Netherlands) were using the Gregorian calendar, England was still using the Julian calendar, so it was several days behind the rest of the continent. To avoid confusion, I’ve stuck to the Julian calendar for both England and Germany.

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