Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Stone's Fall, by Iain Pears

Stone's Fall is a 2009 historical-mystery novel by [[Iain Pears]]. The following was originally written in 2011 as a Wikipedia article - the first WP article I ever attempted. The double brackets around  around some words were "wikilinks" - hyperlinks to other articles. I left them in the text in case anyone wants to read more on Wikipedia (as I did) about any of these people, places, and events.

The level of historical detail in Stone's Fall is remarkable, and inspired me to compose the "historical references" sections. This novel remains the gold standard for the first of the five criteria: "Did the novel inspire me to further historical research?".

I now understand that such material is not really appropriate for a Wikipedia article about a novel, and it was finally deleted by another editor (November, 2015). Someone commented that the material was more appropriate for a blog. So it is, so here it is.


An aging BBC reporter approaching retirement in 1953, Matthew Braddock is on a farewell tour, visiting the old Paris bureau. Chancing upon a familiar name in the obituary notices, he decides to attend the funeral of an acquaintance he has not seen for many years. 

After the service, he is approached by a stranger who introduces himself as the deceased woman's solicitor. He surprises Braddock with the information that the firm has been holding a package for many years, addressed to him, with instructions to deliver it only after this woman's death. 

Later, on his trip back to London, Braddock reminisces about those days of his youth in 1909, when he met the beautiful and mysterious Elizabeth. Equally mysterious was the death (and life) of her husband, Baron Ravenscliff, born John William Stone. 

Later, Braddock opens the long-delayed package to find a pair of extraordinary manuscripts. These two documents, written accounts of events occurring in 1890 and 1867 respectively, follow Braddock's recollections to form the three-part structure of the historical-mystery novel ''Stone's Fall''.

The next article section, '''Historical references''', lists existing and/or historical persons, places, and events mentioned in quotations from ''Stone's Fall'', with citations or internal links to other Wikipedia articles. Page numbers are from the hardcover edition.

The final section, '''Historical liberties''', includes a listing of inconsistencies found between historical facts and the same "facts" as presented in ''Stone's Fall.''

Historical References (direct and indirect)

Prologue - Paris, 1953

  • p.3 [[Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés|Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés]] - site of Elizabeth's funeral 

Part One - London, 1909 – Matthew Braddock's story: London

  • p.11 "[[St. James's Square]] impressive townhouse" – Ravenscliff's residence. 
  • p.25 "[[Mornington Crescent (street)|Mornington Crescent]] trial" – the name given to a fictional(?) murder trial. The name suggests a reference to the "[[Camden Town murder]]" of 1907. Painter [[Walter Sickert]] lived on Mornington Crescent at the time, and later renamed a group of his paintings ''[[The Camden Town Murder]]''. 
  • p.32 "[[Bow Street Magistrates Court]] or the [[Old Bailey]]" – two primary sources for Braddock's crime reporting 
  • p.33 "[[Wilhelm II, German Emperor|Kaiser Wilhelm]]", "[[King Edward VII|King Edward]]". Wilhelm II was the last German Kaiser, 1888-1918. Edward VII became king after the death of [[Queen Victoria]], reigning from 1901 to 1910 (see also the p.306 reference below, where Edward visits Biarritz before he was king). 
  • p.34 "The Prime Minister, [[H. H. Asquith|Asquith]], and his chancellor, [[Lloyd George]]" - leaders of the Liberal government from 1908 to 1916.
  • p.37 "[[Chelsea, London|Chelsea]]...Paradise Walk...[[Tite Street]]" - Paradise Walk runs parallel to [[Tite Street]]. 
  • p.38 "Sargent" - The American painter [[John Singer Sargent]] lived on [[Tite Street]]. :: "Henry MacAlpine" - a little joke here; MacAlpine is a fictional painter in [[Iain Pears|Pears’]] novel ''The Portrait''. 
  • p.41 "Chelsea Library" - the old library was on Manresa Road. In 1980, it was acquired by [[Chelsea College of Art and Design]]. 
  • p.42 "[[Fleet Street]]" – synonymous with London journalism in the 20th century. :: "[[Reform Club]]" - a gentlemen's club "for [[Liberal Party (UK)|Liberal]] grandees", still in existence 
  • p.50 "...[[Carlos I of Portugal#Assassination|King of Portugal]] was assassinated..." - refers to King Carlos I, assassinated in 1908 
  • p.54 "at the Exchange" - refers to the [[London Stock Exchange]], located (in 1909) in Capel Court, off Bartholomew Lane across from the [[Bank of England]]. Capel Court is now gone, along with the rest of the block. 
  • p.57 "[[Cazenove (stock broker)|Cazenove]]…acting for [[Barings Bank|Barings]]" - two of the leading London [[merchant bank]]s at that time.
  • p.64 "[[Jean-Jacques Henner]]" - Elizabeth volunteers the artist's name after observing Braddock's admiration of a portrait of her, dressed in "a golden red dress". Henner was a prominent French painter in Paris when Elizabeth lived there in the 1880s. 
  • p.75 "[[The Ritz London Hotel|Ritz Hotel]]" - The famous [[Piccadilly]] hotel, still in existence at the north-east corner of [[Green Park]], was the upscale residence of the fictional Theodore Xanthos. Note: the fictional Xanthos bears some resemblance to real-life arms dealer [[Basil Zaharoff]].
  • p.83 "...out of the Ritz and up [[Bond Street]]" - Braddock catches a bus (horse-drawn) and makes his way to his former editor's home in [[Camden Town|Camden]]. On the way, he passes the "great houses of Portman Place" (not found, but maybe part of the [[Portman Estate]]? Or did the author mean [[Portland Place]]?) Later, Braddock passes the "even greater establishments of [[Regent's Park]]". 
  • p.83 "furniture from [[Heal's]]" - a venerable department store on [[Tottenham Court Road]] 
  • p.90 "The [[Hotel Russell|Russell Hotel]] in [[Bloomsbury]] was a fairly new building"(completed in 1898, still in existence) 
  • p.138 " agent for the [[Dual Alliance, 1879|Dual Alliance]]...the thanks of the [[Wilhelm II|Kaiser]]...". Elizabeth jokes about being a spy for Britain's current continental rivals, the alliance between Germany and Austria-Hungary, negotiated in 1879 by [[Otto von Bismarck|Bismarck]]. 
  • p.149 "The Anarchist Club, 165 Jubilee Street". Apparently fictional, but similar to historical places and events. For example, see: [[Walsall Anarchists]]. Jubilee Street, Commercial Road, Turner Street,and Newark Street are all located in the old [[East End of London]] (now part of the [[London Borough of Tower Hamlets|Tower Hamlets]] district) 
  • p.151 "[[Prince Kropotkin|Comrade Kropotkin]]" - refers to Peter Kropotkin, the exiled Russian anarchist 
  • p.160 "Wine Office Court, past the Cheshire Cheese". The venerable pub ''[[Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese]]'' is still open for business, just off [[Fleet Street]]. 
  • p.170 "[[Rothschild family|Rothschild's]] at Waddesdon". [[Waddesdon Manor]] was the Rothschild family seat in England, and the most opulent of the many [[Rothschild properties in England]]. 
  • p.170 "Natty Rothschild". A nickname for [[Nathan Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild|Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild]], head of [[N M Rothschild & Sons]], principal rivals to Barings in London [[merchant bank]]ing. 
  • p.172 "{{Citation/make link||Royal Station Hotel}}". Braddock takes a train to [[Newcastle upon Tyne|Newcastle]] and checks into this Victorian hotel, still in business opposite the main station. 
  • p.174 "...the Beswick Shipyard..." - fictional name, but similar to an historical shipbuilding yard at [[Elswick, Tyne and Wear|Elswick]] (a ward of the city of [[Newcastle upon Tyne]]). The facility (no longer in existence) was part of [[Armstrong Whitworth]], the manufacturing company founded by [[William Armstrong, 1st Baron Armstrong]]. 
  • p.175 "HMS Anson, a dreadnought, 23,000 tons." The {{HMS|Monarch|1911|6}}, built in Armstrong's shipyard, is a close match for the fictional HMS ''Anson''. There was a real {{HMS|Anson|1886|6}}, but it was an older and smaller (10,600 tons) battleship that was sold in 1909. 
  • p.177 "When we launched ''Intrepid'' last year..." - there were eight versions of {{HMS|Intrepid}}, but this one is fictional. 
  • p.194 "Tom Baring himself..." - refers to [[Thomas "Tom" Baring (1839-1923)]], brought in as one of the Managing Directors of [[Barings Bank|Baring Brothers and Company, Ltd.]] after the [[Panic of 1890]]. Tom was, in 1909, the eldest of the Barings in the banking partnership, but his nephew {{Citation/make link||John}}, 2nd [[Baron Revelstoke]], was senior partner. 
  • p.195 "...the disaster twenty years ago..." - refers to the [[Panic of 1890]] 
  • p.204 "to Cowes…for the week" – refers to the annual [[Cowes Week]] regatta 
  • p.208 "[[Whiteleys]] department store in [[Bayswater]]..." The site is now Whiteleys Shopping Centre, on [[Queensway (London)|Queensway]]. The building existing in 1909 is gone. 
  • p.208 " [[Waterloo Station]] and caught the 1:45 to [[Southampton]]". The station was completely demolished and rebuilt starting in 1904, but never completely closed. The official reopening was not until 1922. 
  • p.208 "Henley and Ascot" "Henley" refers to the [[Henley Royal Regatta]]. "Ascot" refers to Royal Ascot, the famous thoroughbred race meeting held annually since 1711 at [[Ascot Racecourse]] in [[Berkshire]]. 

Cowes, Isle of Wight

  • p.211 "Mrs. [[Sir Godfrey Baring, 1st Baronet|Godfrey Baring]]'s bal masque". Godfrey Baring was soon to be a Baronet and MP for the Isle of Wight (1911). 
  • p.211 "the [[Solent]]". The body of water separating the Isle of Wight from the main island of Great Britain. 
  • p.212 "up the Esplanade to Egypt House..." The Esplanade is a long, paved waterfront footpath, paralleling Queen's Road and running west ("up") from Cowes. "{{Citation/make link||Egypt House}}" was built c.1880. 
  • p.212 "the ''[[HMY Victoria and Albert III|Victoria and Albert]]''". HMY Victoria and Albert III, the Royal Yacht, entered service in 1901. 
  • p.212 "There is no bridge, just a strange contraption which looks like a floating wooden shed that is pulled this way and that across the water by chains…", The [[Cowes Floating Bridge]] is still in daily operation, connecting [[Cowes]] and [[East Cowes]]. Nowadays, it resembles an ordinary ferry, but in period photos it does indeed look like a "floating wooden shed". 
  • p.215 "...up Egypt Hill, a road that...skirted the gardens of the Baring house". The house (now demolished) was known as Nubia House; residence of [[Sir Godfrey Baring, 1st Baronet|Godfrey Baring]]. 
  • p.221 "The Tsar of all the Russias. [[Nicholas II of Russia|Nicholas II]]". The last Tsar, as it turned out. 
  • p.221 "the imperial yacht, the ''Sandrart''". This is a misspelling; the correct name is ''[[Standart (yacht)|Standart]]''. 
  • p.222 "Osborne...up York Avenue to the main gate." Prince Albert designed [[Osborne House]] as a summer home and rural retreat for himself and Queen Victoria. There are two entrances off York Avenue. The Royal Entrance has a gated archway.  

Part Two – Paris 1890

Henry Cort's story: London

  • p.242 "a lovely [[Adam style|Adam]] house in [[Scottish borders|the Borders]] in the summer." - refers to the areas along the border between England and Scotland. :
  • p.244 "[[Balliol College, Oxford|Balliol]]..." - Balliol College is at Oxford. :p.244 "... a Fellow of [[Trinity College, Oxford|Trinity]]..." - refers to Trinity College, Oxford. 
  • p.245 "[[Athenaeum Club, London|the Athenaeum]]". Another distinguished "gentlemen's club", still in existence. 


  • p.250 "train to [[Dover]]...crossed the [[English Channel|Channel]] by steamer to [[Calais]]...arrived at the [[Gare du Nord]]...". Cort travels to Paris in the days before the Chunnel, or even the [[Golden Arrow (train)|Golden Arrow]]. 
  • p.251 "Fifteen rue Poulletier...[[Île Saint-Louis]]" Just upstream from, and connected by bridge to the famous [[Île de la Cité]], is the less well-known Île Saint Louis. 
  • p.263 "the [[Vickers]], the [[Krupp]]s and the [[Schneider Electric|Schneiders]]" - a trio of families; British, German and French respectively, that made their fortunes in arms manufacturing. 
  • p.265 "[[Nancy, France|Nancy]]...much closer to the German border than it wanted to be." This refers to the post-[[Franco-Prussian War]] border. After World War I, Nancy ceased to be a border town (see also p.267 in the 'Historical Liberties' section below). 
  • p.284 "Lord Revelstoke, the chairman of Barings…" - refers to [[Edward Baring, 1st Baron Revelstoke]]. 
  • p.291 "Theatre only if Bernhardt is involved" - refers to [[Sarah Bernhardt]], the French actress. 


  • p.292 [[Biarritz]] "…Hotel du Palais to the north…" - refers to the [[Hotel du Palais]], built in 1854 by [[Napoleon III]], as a beach palace for his Empress, [[Eugénie de Montijo|Eugénie]] 
  • p.292 "Princess Natalie of Romania" [historical or fictional?] :p.296 "[[Maurice Rouvier]]". Rouvier was Finance Minister from 1889 to 1892.
  • p.306 "Prince of Wales" - before he became [[King Edward VII]]. :p.307 ''"[[Almanach de Gotha]]"''. A respected directory of Europe's highest nobility and royalty. 


  • p.313 "facade of the [[Crédit Lyonnais]], just visible on the boulevard beyond.". The bank's headquarters was on [[Boulevard des Italiens]]. 
  • p.318 "[[Chamber of Deputies of France|Chambre des Députés]]". The lower house of parliament from 1875 to 1940, during the [[French Third Republic]].
  • p.318 "England...bought the [[Suez Canal]] strangle France's Empire". Great Britain bought the Egyptian share of Canal ownership in 1888. Prior to this, British troops occupied the Canal following the [[1882 Anglo-Egyptian War]]. 
  • p.319 "the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas" This was an important French [[merchant bank]] in 1890; now part of [[BNP Paribas]]. 
  • p.327 "Hotel du Louvre" - this Paris hotel fills a prominent block between the [[Palais Royal]] and the [[Louvre Palace]]. 
  • p.330 "Lapérouse" - the [[Left Bank]] restaurant. 
  • p.337 "all the way up to [[Belleville, Paris|Belleville]]" - Belleville was annexed by the City of Paris in 1860. 
  • p.343 "[[Longchamp Racecourse|Longchamp]]". Longchamp Racecourse is a horse-racing facility located in the western end of the [[Bois de Boulogne]], which is also the western edge of Paris. 
  • p.348 "the American railroad collapse" - probably refers to the [[Panic of 1873]]. 
  • p.349 "back across the [[Bois de Boulogne]] to Paris". One of two huge urban parks in Paris, part of the 19th century redesign of Paris by [[Baron Haussmann]]. 
  • p.350 "Avenue de la Grande Armée". One of the twelve grand avenues radiating away from the [[Arc de Triomphe]]; also part of Haussmann's design. 
  • p.355 "[[Bank of England]] wouldn't have enough gold..." - these were the days of the "[[gold standard]]". 
  • p.359 "No market [for automobiles in Britain] until the government allows them to go more than four miles an hour." This situation finally changed with the [[Locomotives on Highways Act 1896]]. 
  • p.366 "a [[Mayer Alphonse James Rothschild|Rothschild]] or a [[Jacques de Reinach|Reinach]] or a [[Barings Bank|Baring]]". Three of the top families in European banking at the time. 
  • p.368 "British Embassy". Then and now, located at 35 [[Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré]]. 
  • p.368 "Next came the Russian Embassy". A bit of a walk to Rue de Grenelle, across the [[Seine]] in the [[7th arrondissement of Paris|7th arrondissement]]; now part of the [[Minister of National Education (France)|Ministry of National Education]] complex. 
  • p.392 "nearby English church" - refers to St. Michael's. The "{{Citation/make link||imitation of an English Gothic building}}" has been replaced. 


  • p.394 "arrived at [[London Victoria station|Victoria]]...then drove directly to the [[Foreign Office]]" - refers to the building on [[Whitehall]], constructed in 1868. 
  • p.395 "[[Williams & Glyn's Bank|Glyn Mills]]". A private London bank, established in 1753; it is part of [[RBS Group]] today. 
  • p.395 "[[Argentina]] is in a virtual state of war." The [[Revolución del Parque]] began in July, 1890. 
  • p.396 "Just round the corner was Downing Street...past the [[10 Downing Street|Prime Minister's house]]...knocked on the door of [[11 Downing Street|Number 11]]" 
  • p.396 "Three men were already there: [[Edward Baring, 1st Baron Revelstoke|Lord Revelstoke]]; [[William Lidderdale]], Governor of the [[Bank of England|Bank]]; and [[George Goschen]], the [[Chancellor of the Exchequer]]." The purpose of this meeting was to attempt to avert the financial disaster that later came to be known as "The [[Panic of 1890]]". 
  • p.400 "head of the English branch at this time was Natty Rothschild". His full name was [[Nathan Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild|Nathaniel Mayer de Rothschild]]. 


  • p.403 "the Rothschild mansion in the Eighth Arrondissemant" - refers to the {{Citation/make link||Hotel de Saint-Florentin}}, Paris residence of [[Édouard Alphonse James de Rothschild|Alphonse de Rothschild]], Natty's cousin and head of the French branch of the family business. 
  • p.404 "M. Magnin...[[Bank of France]]". Pierre Magnin was [[Governor of the Bank de France|Governor of the Bank of France]] from 1881 to 1897. 
  • p.406 "rue Daru...[[Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of Russian Tradition in Western Europe|Alexander Nevski Cathedral]]". The cathedral was and is the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox church in western Europe. 
  • p.410 "Bismarck has gone. The [[Reinsurance Treaty|treaty]] you [Russia] had with Germany went with him." German Chancellor [[Otto von Bismarck]] was forced to resign in March 1890, some months before the events against which this chapter is set. 
  • p.432 "construction of the port of Nicolaieff [sic] on the Black Sea". The [[Black Sea Shipyard]] was established at [[Mykolaiv|Nikolaev]] in 1897.

Part Three – Venice 1867 – John Stone's story

  • p.435 "Hotel Europa". The hotel was later the location of the original [[Harry's Bar (Venice)|Harry's Bar]]. 
  • p.444 "Macintyre". The British expat engineer (no first name given) is a fictional character; perhaps loosely based on [[Robert Whitehead]], inventor of the self-propelled (or "automobile") [[torpedo]]. 
  • p.444 "Sottini's in [[Mestre]]". Mestre is near Venice, on the mainland. 
  • p.446 "as the Venetians themselves abandoned [[Torcello]]". The natural island of [[Torcello]] was the oldest and once the most populous area of Venice. Today it is almost deserted except for tourists. 
  • p.473 Dunbury scandal: "a foolishly conceived scheme…railway built across a two-hundred-mile swamp in Russia" – historical or fictional? This incident is mentioned twice in the novel. 
  • p.485 "Laird's in Liverpool" Technically, the British ship builder was located in Birkenhead, across the [[River Mersey|Mersey]] from [[Liverpool]]. Laird's later became part of [[Cammell Laird]]. 
  • p.536 "you remember the [[CSS Alabama|Alabama]]?" The infamous Confederate raider was built by Laird's during the [[American Civil War]]. 
  • p.545 "[[San Servolo]]. The island lies between San Marco and the Lido". - An early Benedictine monastery was established on the island, which later became a psychiatric hospital. 

Historical liberties

  • p.33 Kaiser Wilhelm is mentioned as being the grand-nephew of Queen Victoria. He was, in fact, her grandson. 
  • p.267 "the occupied part of Alsace...". The author probably meant [[Lorraine (region)|Lorraine]] rather than [[Alsace]]. The [[Treaty of Frankfurt (1871)]] ending the [[Franco-Prussian War]] ceded all of Alsace and northern parts of Lorraine to Germany, forming the new German imperial territory of [[Alsace-Lorraine]]. [[Nancy, France|Nancy]], the capital of Lorraine, was close to the border between the two sections of divided Lorraine. Nancy is not so close to any part of Alsace. 

Possible plot holes

In the opening chapters, the actual business of the administration of estates, obtaining probate of a will, the publication at the Principal Probate Registry of wills that are so proved, and the ability of executors to set aside funds for missing beneficiaries, are completely ignored. In this novel, the supposed inability of the executor to administer the estate (as long as there is a missing beneficiary) is no inability at all; it seems to have been portrayed as such for plotting.
 :p.240 "Your account of the events you took part in was impeccable ..." A curious statement, written by Cort in 1943; the evidence in the novel is that Braddock's "account" existed before 1953 only in the form of private notes, which Braddock "digs out" after Elizabeth's funeral. This is not a problem related to any historical information - only a lack of internal consistency in the fictional history. However, Cort might be referring to Braddock's ''oral'' account that he offers to Cort during their one meeting in the hospital of 1910, not to the ''written'' account. Alternatively, as Cort is a very skilful spy, he may have gained access to Braddock's notes secretly around that time.

No comments:

Post a Comment