THE IRREGULARS were like many children in turn-of-the-century London is some ways, and different in other ways. It seems likely that their association with Sherlock Holmes, and the money they received from helping him, would give them a little advantage over most of the street urchins at that time.
Like most slum-dogs in London, the irregulars had to work instead of going to school. Some had their own professions such as chimney-sweeps, shoe-blacks, mudlarks, and the like. Such is the case with many of the irregular characters that I am creating for my next book. However, even with the help of Sherlock Holmes, the irregulars lived in the same stark environment as most poor children in the period.
The streets, particularly the slums, were disease-ridden because sanitation was bad and clean water unavailable. Many children died from illnesses such as cholera, measles, diarrhea, and tuberculosis. Of course, parents died as well, leaving many orphans. There were few orphanages for the poor. Workhouses were the only option for poorer orphans. Workhouses provided food and shelter in return for hard, unpleasant work. Conditions were so harsh that children would only go to workhouses as a last resort.
The irregulars were a band of street kids who worked together to avoid the workhouses. Many of them walked on the wrong side of the law, out of necessity. They banded together to avoid what were called the “lads-men,” of Dickens fame, who provided meager shelter and food in exchange for the lion’s share of the spoils from thievery. Despite this, it was likely that many of the irregulars were thieves. However, it is nice to think that, thanks to Sherlock Holmes, they had other ways to make a living — other choices. This is the underlying premise of my new book tentatively entitled: Irregular Lives: The True Story of Sherlock Holmes’s Urchin Army.
As a writer, I find the irregulars fascinating because they provide a stark counterpoint to the richer society that is the focus of most of Doyle’s stories. Indeed, I recently published a story called Blood Brothers for the new multi-volume anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories being created to support the The Undershaw Trust’s efforts to save the Doyle home in Surrey. My story is in Volume III of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.
I will soon begin posting portions of the current work in progress in this blog. I invite readers, and followers, to offer opinions, ideas, and criticism. I am curious if this new focus for Sherlock Holmes stories — the irregulars — is something you, as a reader, might enjoy. I hope to hear from you.