Sunday, 7 December 2014

Denizens of Dunchester

Jeremiah Wislet, 45, Antiquarian

Jeremiah has a long interest in Dunchester and its environs. He is a medieval scholar, graduating from Oxford. He has also worked for more than a decade in the British Museum. While he is a mine of information on the ancient history of the region, he is most focused on his own pet theory regarding the legendary village of Iddlestone. Mentioned in the Doomesday Book, Iddlestone is thought to have been claimed by the sea following a particularly ferocious storm in the 13th century. Wislet is convinced that the village can still be found somewhere under the marshes.

The exact location of Iddlestone is a mystery, but Jeremiah is devoting his twilight years in his quest to discover it. He has his own boat and a pair of waders, and can be seen out and about on a fine day with a shovel, digging for medial artefacts. Perhaps of most interest to Jeremiah is the fable associated with the vicar of Iddlestone, who legend holds worked with pirates who operated in the Channel in the late 1100s. He was the custodian of much of their loot, but it was lost when the sea apparently swamped Iddlestone, perhaps as divine punishment for the crimes of its pastor.

Jeremiah has a reputation of being moody and irritable, impatient with lesser intellects and indeed all those who do not share his fascination with local archaeology. He is particularly short tempered with individuals of a dreamy, artistic bent, and is not talking to Rufus Tannisart (below).

Matthew Durnford, 50, Physician

Durnford is a cousin of Colonel Anthony Durnford, who was killed by Zulus at Isandhlwana in 1879. He also served in the army, as a military doctor, and had some experience in Africa, cut short by a bout of malaria on the Gold Coast. He has retired to a practice as a country doctor in Dunchester, but does not seem best pleased with his situation. He is a short-tempered and arrogant man, he sleeps badly and is suspected of sampling his own medicine cabinet and the occasional bottle of Scotch to help him beat his insomnia.

Durnford has been busy lately investigating the strangely high incidence of sleep walking in Dunchester. Several inhabitants have suffered minor accidents as a result of this and it has piqued the doctor's curiosity. He has even written a short piece on it for the British Medical Journal, although it has not been published. Not to be deterred, Durnford has been telling his small circle of friends (including Jeremiah Wislet, above) about his plans to conduct a more detailed survey of the problem in an effort to establish its cause.

Durnford is a bachelor, and lives with his sister Cara. She supports him as practice nurse and book keeper, as well as doing much of his shopping and cooking while he ponders how to revivify his flagging medical career.

Isabella Hellinges, 36, Landlady

Isabella is the current owner of the Grimfell Inn, ironically named after the 17th century judge who burned her ancestor. The Hellinges family moved away from Dunchester before the Civil War, but returned in the 1750s, when Daniel Hellinges, who made his money in the transatlantic slave trade, retired to Dunchester and bought the inn. It is runoured he and his son were later key figures in the smuggling activities of the Brotherhood of the Deep.

Isabella is an important figure in the community - some unkind souls would even call her a busybody. However she allows locals to spend time smoking and drinking and generally gossiping in the inn's snug, so long as they don't disturb any guests, few and far between as they might be. Isabella was born a Hellinge - her father owned and ran the Grimfell before her, and while she was once engaged to a local fisherman, his boat went down in a freak storm in the summer of 1884.

The Hellinges family has not been able to shake its association with witchcraft, however, despite Isabella's best efforts. Her fondness for the feline species, and the small pack of more than a dozen cats that haunt the Grimfell, has gone some way to perpetuate it. Gossip also surrounds her relationship with Isaiah Mentieth (see below).

Abraham Wittings, 50, Fisherman

Abraham lives in Dunchester and owns a fishing ketch called the Sea Song. He and his two sons spend most of their days out fishing, but also occasionally take tourists out to sea or ship cargo between Dunchester and Hastings. He is close-mouthed and says little of his experiences out on the storm-tossed waves, although some remark on the strange rituals he and his sons perform on their boat before setting out. The Old ways die hard amongst the fisher folk.

Abraham is considered something of a patriarch among the fishing community in and around Dunchester. He tends to avoid those he does not know or trust. He and his sons can sometimes be found drinking at the King's Head inn on the Dunchester to Hastings road. They live in a small village out on the marshes, but keep their boat down by the seaside. They also have a couple of rowboats and can sometimes be seen pottering around the many stagnant waterways that wend across the marshes. Nobody speaks of Wittings' wife, Martha, who once worked shoulder to shoulder with him on his boat. She was lost at sea on particularly stormy night, and the old man will not discuss the tragic event with anybody.

Rufus Tannisart, Painter, age 84

Tannisart is the last survivor of the infamous Dunchester Circle of painters who frequented the area in the early 1800s. Now in his dotage, Tannisart is rarely seen around town and even refuses to see visitors, preferring instead to glare balefully from the upper windows of his grey stone mansion at one end of Cable Street. Rumour has it that the old man continues to paint, and that his attic is stocked with new and original work that some European collectors would pay a fortune for, but access to him is strictly controlled by his nurse and housekeeper, Mrs Ursula Lambert.

Still, some say there are mysterious visitors to the old house, usually in the depths of night. Dark figures have been seen crossing the old churchyard behind Tannisart's home, stealing in and out by a back entrance. The old man is wealthy, however, and has patronised more than one struggling Dunchester business of charity with his considerable largesse, and those with influence in the town are loath to create problems for him. They say he spends most of his time asleep these days, dreaming perhaps of other times and places...

Isaiah Menteith - Carter, ex-Soldier, age 34

Isaiah owns a horse and cart and is frequently encountered in the streets of Dunchester, providing conveyancing for local businesses. He is also one of the few individuals prepared to transport people and their belongings overland between Dunchester and the nearest train stations at Rye and Hastings. Travellers will need to make prior arrangements to be met by Menteith, usually via Isabella Hellinges at the Grimfell Inn. Menteith is often to be found at the snug in the Grimfell when the weather is inclement, and for the right price can provide transport to most locations in the area that can be reached by road.

Menteith is a Sussex native and fought as a young man in the Sudan campaign of 1884-85 where he was decorated for gallantry. He still bears the scars of a desperate fight with the Mahdi's troops in the desert, including a sword cut to his forehead that is even more prominent now that he is losing his hair. Unlike many in Dunchester, he maintains a cheeful demeanour, humming thoughtfully to himself as he potters around town or along the lanes to outlying villages. He smokes a particularly strong brand of Egyptian tobacco that more often than not betrays his trail around the area.


  1. I'm glad to see this series return!

    I'm not sure about the name though.The "-chester" suffix is Roman and indicates a castle of fortification not mentioned in the history so far. I don't think you should change the name because it has a nice Lovecraftian feel, but there should be some reason why it has the name.

    1. "or fortification" not "of fortification". I am appalled.

  2. Great post. Lots of flavour. More female npcs needed. Those arrogant rich men sound tiring!