— VOTF11 I Travel in Suspenders

General Remarks

  • The  narrator is Alfred Arthur Rouse, “the blazing car murderer”.

    Alfred Rouse, c.1930
  • The date given is “AD 1931”, 90 years after the previous chapter.
    • The significance of this date is that it is the year of Rouse’s trial.
  • The indicated map location is to the southeast of Northampton, presumably Hardingstone (the location of the car fire).
  • Much of the research for these notes was taken from online scans of The Guardian‘s coverage of the case in 1930-1931.


  • “suspenders” – Britoshism for “garters”, straps for holding up stockimgs, traditionally worn only by women (hence the male Rouse getting laughs by saying that he “travels in suspenders”.
  • “That always gets a laugh” – Arguably, this entire chapter is an extended traveling salesman joke.
  • “the motor that carries me back and forth” – During at least one of the pre-trial hearings, Rouse was walked from the court to his cell by underground passage. It is not known whether this practice was continued during the main trial.
  • “Angel Lane” – There is no “Angel Lane” in modern Northampton. There is, however, an Angel Street, and a map from 1899 shows a “Co. Police Sta.” located near there (possibly up what may be an unlabeled Angel Lane).

    Google Street View up what may have been Angel Lane
    Google Street View up what may have been Angel Lane
  • “the assizes” – Rouse was tried at the Northampton Assizes from January 26 through 31, 1931. I have been unable to determine where in Northampton they were held.
  • “there’s no sense looking at the mantel when the fire wants poking” – A joking way of saying that a woman’s facial appearance doesn’t matter, as lomg as she’ll have sex.
  • WC” – Abbreviation for “water closet”, a now little-used term for a bathroom.
  • pants” – In british usage, “pants” generally refers to what Americans would call “umderpants”.
  • “cheeky little monkey” – “Cheeky monkey” is idiomatic for “impudent person”.
  • fanny” – Slang for buttocks or female genitalia.
  • “Lillian” – Lily May Watkins, whom Rouse married on November 29, 1914.
  • “papers printing what I said to the police, about how my harem keeps me away from home” – While speaking to an Inpector Lawrence in Northampton on December 8, 1930, Rouse said: “I know several women […] My harem takes me to several places, and I am not at home a great deal, but my wife doesn’t ask questions now.” This was first quoted in The Guardian (and presumably others) on November 28, it having come up as part of a pretrial hearing.
  • “Mr Finnemore” – Donald Finnemore.
  • Leicester” – A city about 35 miles north of Northampton.
  • “I’m as good as up her skirt already” – In the sense that, “under her skirt, she may well be wearing lingerie from “my” firm.”
  • “Lillian’s […] been given work down at a shop in Bridge Street” – I have not yet been able to document this. On the other hand, as revealed in chapter twelve, neither was Moore!
  • “Never likes to sit upon my knee […] she’s the best wife I’ve got.” – Rouse, in the aforementioned November 8 talk with Inspector Lawrence, said: “I don’t think I ever remember my wife sitting on my knee. Otherwise she is a good wife.”
  • Menthol Eucalyptus sweets” – To this day, a common form of cough drop.
  • “amateur baritone” – Wikipedia notes that Rouse had an “exceptional baritone”.
  • “Friern Barnet Social Club in Finchley” – Friern Barnet was at the time an urban district of London where Rouse bought a house for Lillian and himself in 1929 or 1930. Finchley is a smaller area within the district.
  • “‘Trumpeter What Are You Sounding Now'” – First Line of “The Trumpeter“, by J. Airlie Dix, published in 1904. You can listen to it here.
  • “my Morris” – In the summer of 1930, Rouse purchased a 1928 Morris Minor automobile.

    1928 Morris Minor (Wikimedia Commons)
    1928 Morris Minor (Wikimedia Commons)
  • “You’d think he’d be out cold” – In Rouse’s final, written confession, he states that, after assaulting the man, “the man was silent and I thought he was dead or unconscious.”
  • “It wasn’t even any words you’d take for English” – This draws a connection between this chapter and chapter one, where Hob carefully notes down Boy’s ‘speech’ as he is consumed by the flames.
  • “he kicked the side door open” – See notes about this below, where Rouse revisits this incident in more detail.
  • Joe Soap” – British rhyming slang for “dope” (idiot or scapegoat).
  • “the picture of my Morris Minor that they printed” – Possibly this image, which seems to fit the details mentioned:

    image via All Things Crime Blog
    image via All Things Crime Blog
  • “the Daily Sketch” – A British tabloid newspaper.
  • “insured […] don’t expect to see a big return” – Rouse apparently had a history of car insurance fraud. I have been unable to find evidence that the car itself was insured against damage; however, there was an insurance policy of £1,000 in the event of the death of passengers “or of the owner if driving at the time”.
  • mud-guards” – A curved piece designed to deflect mud thrown up by the wheels of the vehicle.
  • “Ivy” – Ivy Muriel Jenkins, whom Rouse ‘married’ on July 21, 1930 (her 21st birthday).
  • “Helen” – Helen Campbell, who met Rouse in 1920.
  • “the one that died” – Miss Campbell bore Rouse a child on October 21, 1921. It died five weeks later.
  • “Our little Arthur” – Born July 22, 1925. On Oct 17, 1929, Campbell ontained a court order directing Rouse to make child support payments. He paid irregularly. In the summer of 1930, they came to an agreement whereby Rouse (or in practical terms, Mrs. Rouse) would take custody of the child.
  • “she’s brought him up” – Lillian had, at this time, had custody of Arthur for less than a year, so Rouse’s praise is perhaps exaggerated.
  • “I missed our anniversary this last November” – On November 29th, Rouse was in jail awaiting trial.
  • Gellygaer” – A town in Wales.
  • “four months up the spout” – “Up the spout” is slang for “pregnant”. The timing is consistent with Ivy being about to give birth as of early November.
  • “‘funny five minutes‘” – A temporary aberration.
  • Hardingstone” – A village just south of Northampton.
  • “two men who had seen me” – Alfred Thomas Brown and William Bailey, who saw Rouse at about 1:50 AM the morning of November 6, 1930.
  • “the old stone cross […] Queen Eleanor” – One of a series of stone crosses erected by Edward I in the 13th century to commemorate each nightly resting-place along Queen Eleanor’s funeral procession to London.

    Queen Eleanor cross, Hardingstone
    Queen Eleanor cross, Hardingstone
  • “some well-off old chum who drove a Bentley” – Rouse did claim to have missed a friend with a Bentley. Bently is a manufacturer of luxury cars, so a man who owns one would, presumably, be “well-off”.
  • “Tally Ho Corner on the Barnet Road” – This is where Rouse was dropped off. Tally Ho Corner is the center of North Finchley. The “Barnet Road” would presumably be High Road.
  • “a fellow at the Transport Office there that my own car had been pinched from outside a coffee stall” – “There” would appear to be incorrect; the testimony as reported in The Guardian next places Rouse near Embankment, several miles away (and about 2.5 hours later). There, two employees of Thomas Transport Company reported Rouse saying: “I have lost my car. I have had it pinched.” and “He said he was inside a coffee stall taking refreshments, and when he came back the car had disappeared.”
  • “by then I was quite dozy” – Unsurprising, as Rouse had presumably been awake for more than 24 hours.
  • Cardiff” – The largest city in Wales.
  • “another bus to Penybryn” – Penybryn is a village near Gellygaer. I haven’t been able to document this trip, but it is plausible, as Gellygaer is about 20 miles from Cardiff.
  • “got in about eight” – Mr. Jenkins testified that Rouse arrived at 8:30.
  • Taffy” – Slang for Welshman (often considered derogatory).
  • “at death’s door with illness” – While contemporary accounts do make reference to Ivy’s being “extremely ill”, this may have been a euphemism for “extremely pregnant”.
  • “Little Nell” – The heroine of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, who was famed for her ill health.
  • Surrey” – A county in southeast England.
  • gone out” – In this context, blankly.
  • Kingston-on-Thames” – Now a part of Greater London, in 1930, it was still part of Surrey.
  • “Five hundred pounds a year I’m earning now” – Trial testimony states that Rouse had a salary of £4 per week, plus expenses and commissions. In the three weeks immediately leading up to the fire, he earned over £25 in commissions, better than £8 per week. If this was typical, then yearly earnings would be approximately £600.
  • “Leicester Brace & Garter” – Leivester Brace & Garter is a subsidiary of Dunlop, founded c.1929. Trial testimony states that Rouse’s employer was “W. B. Martin, Ltd.” I have been unable to find more details about W. B. Martin; it might actually be connected with LB&G.
  • “I’d planned to sell the house and furniture […] I’d make a settlement to Lily and young Arthur, naturally” – In the aforementioned November 8 interview with Inspector Lawrence, Rouse said “I was going to sell my house and furniture. I was then going to make an allowance to my wife.”
    • Ironically, the furniture was sold on December 15, 1930, presumably to help defray the expenses of the trial. The house was offered for auction at the same time, but the reserve was not met.
  • “Buxted Road” was the location of Rouse’s house.
  • “it took me eighteen hours” – Approximately 2 AM to 8 PM.
  • “football stud” – The stud on the bottom of a football shoe.
  • “straight on top and curled up round the back” – Possibly something like this:

    30s hairstyle (source unknown)
    30s hairstyle (source unknown)
  • Chu Chin Chow” – A hit musical comedy that ran in London from 1916 to 1921.
  • 24th Queen’s Territorials” – An infantry division formed of volunteers in September 1914.
  • “conshies” – Slang for conscientious objectors.
  • “Four months together, me and Lily had” – Rather less, actually, November 29 – March 15.
  • How’s-Your-Father” – British euphemism for sex, possibly first widely used in WWI.
  • “Givenchy” – The term is somewhat unclear, as it may refer to several communes in northern France, all of which are located quite near the area of The Battle of Festubert, where Rouse was wounded.
  • Muggins” – British slang for a fool.
  • RSN” – Probably “Registered Surgical Nurse”.
  • off his chump” – Insane.
  • “pensioned out” – Soldiers who left the army with a disabling injury were entitled to a pension. The amount varied with the degree of disability. Rouse was deemed fully recovered, and his pension terminated, in 1920.
  • “gasping for it” – Eager or desperate for something. More commonly seen as “gagging for it“.
  • “funny wonders” – Possibly a reference to Funny Wonders, a 1930s British comic strip featuring Charlie Chaplin.
  • “I took up commercial travelling when I came out of the army” – Oversimplified. Rouse spent several years in recuperation. Then, according to Wikipedia, “Throughout the 1920s, he also undertook a number of jobs which required a degree of physical exertion. Many of these jobs involved the use of vehicles, resulting in Rouse becoming a moderately skilled mechanic.” He started work at the Leicester company in 1929.
  • “I’d had five year of it by then” – Rouse was discharged from the army in February 1916, and must have had sex with Helen Campbell by early 1921.
  • “Little servant girl.” – Helen testified that she was a waitress, though she may of course have been a servant when she met Rouse.
  • “There were lots of memories in that back seat.” – Rouse only owned the car for a few months! Then again, he was a fast worker…
  • “only fourteen” – This would put her birthdate at roughly 1907. I have not been able to verify anything about her age.
  • “old enough to bleed, they’re old enough to butcher” – A particularly crass way of saying that when a woman has reached puberty, she should be available for sex.
  • “two years later […] she’d fallen with another one” – Actually over three years, the pregnancy would have commenced in late 1924.
  • Islington” – A district of London, not very far from Finchley.
  • “French sponge” – Presumably French sponge cake.
  • “Joe Lyon’s corner shop” – A British restaurant chain.

    1930s ad for Lyons
    1930s ad for Lyons
  • “rockets and Roman candles” – Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) has long been an occasion for fireworks.
  • “Nellie Tucker” – Yet another of Rouse’s lovers, to whom he was paying support for a child born in 1928.
  • “during the troubled patch with Helen and
    our Lily” – Rouse seems to be implying that he took up with Nellie after Helen found out about Lily. But he just said that he went to visit Nellie “before all this blew up”. But this is of a piece with all the other places where his narration is inconsistent and filled with invented justifications.
  • “had the baby just the week before” – Tucker bore Rouse a second child on October 29, 1930.
  • “I took up with her in 1925” – Tucker’s testimony (in late 1930) said “almost five years”, which would be 1926.
  • “paid five pounds […] every month” – Tucker’s testimony states that the court ordered Rouse to pay 10 shillings (half a pound at the time) every week, which is about half the claimed amount.
  • A Girl in Every Port” – 1928 silent comedy film, directed by Howard Hawks.

    Billboard poster for A Girl in Every Port
    Billboard poster for A Girl in Every Port
  • Victor McLaglan” – English character actor.
  • Myrna Loy” – American actress best known for playing Nora Charles in the Thin Man films. Her role in A Girl in Every Port is uncredited.
  • Louise Brooks” – American actress. Female lead in A Girl in Every Port, a role which got her acclaim (and subsequent roles) in Europe.
  • “her hair like that” – Brooks famously helped popularize the bobbed hairstyle.

    Louise Brooks in A Girl in Every Port
    Louise Brooks in A Girl in Every Port
  • Sally Rand” – American actress and burlesque dancer.
  • ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’” – Popular American song which debuted in 1918.
  • “past Enfield, heading out St Alban’s way” – Enfield is a town in the north of Greater London. St Alban’s is a city in Hertfordshire, north of London.
  • “round a bend” – in Jerusalem, the phrase “round the bend” is prominent, both in terms of literally moving around a corner, and in the idiomatic sense of “going mad”, which may be a subtext here.
  • Relief of Mafeking” – A major military victory during the Second Boer War. Rouse is punning on the military sense of “relieving a siege” and his own physical sense of relief.
  • “Labour in Vain” – This is the same pub that John Clare found himself in in chapter ten. The phrase occurs quite often in the Bible, and is also the name of some actual pubs.
    • In Rouse’s final confession, he claims to have met his victim at the Swan and Pyramid pub, but Moore is deviating from history, to tie Rouse in more closely with the themes of this novel.
  • “old tinker with a funny stand-up hat” – Suggest? (Perhaps John Clare in his “wideawake” hat?)
  • half-sharp” – Dimwitted.
  • “this little lad of ten or so” – Possibly Boy, from chapter one, getting to know the next victim of the fire in this timelost pub?
  • Derbyshire” – A county in East Midlands (northwest of London).
  • “the pits there” – Coal mines. (Autopsy of the victim showed particles in the lungs suggesting he had been a coal miner.)
  • “as if I had some motive” – See Closing Remarks.
  • “getting me in another drink” – Rouse was apparently a teetotaller. When he met the fellow in the bar, Rouse drank lemonade.
  • “he had one himself” – See Closing Remarks.
  • “the Roman road” – Another reminder of how Northampton (and this novel) is tied into ancient road networks.
  • Towcester” – A town in south Northamptonshire.
  • Greens Norton” – A village near Towcester.
  • Herne Hill” – A district of South London, where Rouse did live as a boy.
  • Half Moon Inn” – A local inn of considerable antiquity.
  • Pear’s Encyclopaedia” – A one volume encyclopedia, published by the Pear’s Soap company.
  • “under H […] this bloke” – Herne is a mythological horned figure, reminiscent of Hob and Olun in appearance.

    Herne the Hunter, print by George Cruikshank, 1843
    Herne the Hunter, print by George Cruikshank, 1843
  • Reveille” – I could find no reference to a periodical of this name which existed when Rouse was about seven. There was a magazine starting in 1918 named Reveille: Devoted to the Disabled Sailor & Soldier, which presumably Rouse, as a disabled soldier himself, would have at least been aware of. Perhaps his memory conflated this with a magazine that his parents read when he was seven.
  • “a neighbor […] who seemed to know all of their business […] it was her” – According to trial testimony, the neighbor was a Mr. Thomas William Reeks.
  • “That’s not my car” – Trial testimony: “This is not my car.”
  • “MU 1486” – This licence plate is clearly visible on all the photos of the burned-out car.
  • “a quick one off the wrist […] brought myself off” – Slang terms for masturbation.
  • “Brownhill […] volunteered” – Rouse asked for (and got) a lift into Cardiff from Hendle James Brownhill.
  • Hammersmith” –  A district of West London, and a major transport hub.
  • “straight on to the police” – Brownhill did communicate with the police soon enough for them to meet the coach in Hammersmith.
  • “career in nursing” – Ivy had been employed as a “probationer nurse” in London.
  • Germolene” – An antiseptic ointment, made in the UK.
  • surgical spirit” – Denatured alcohol, used to clean surgical instruments before an operation.
  • kick off” – Slang for “die”.
  • “I think he said his name was Bill” – In his final confession, Rouse stated several times that he had not asked the victim his name; “there was no reason why I should do so”.
  • “a proper Charly” – British slang for “fool”.
  • “I said the first thing that came into my head” – Rouse’s reported statements upon meeting the police at Hammersmith are accurate.
  • “in Court today” – This fixes the date of the narration as the evening of January 29, 1931, after Rouse gave his testimony and was cross-examined.
  • “Mr. Birkett” – William Norman Birkett.
  • “I’ve very little faith in village constables” – Rouse’s testimony: “I had not much faith in the local police.”
  • “yuss?” – “yes”, in a phonetic (and parodic) rendering of an upper-class English accent.
  • “in the eyes of the police, I thought the owner was responsible for anything that happened in his car.” – The Guardian does mention this, though it does not provide an exact quote.
  • “I told them what had happened early on that morning of the sixth […] unvarnished truth.” – This account is largely accurate, except where noted. (That is, an accurate account of what Rouse told the Hammersmith police, which was not itself accurate.)
    • “I said I hadn’t” – Rouse’s actual statement at the time claimed that he had said “I will give you all my cigarettes.”
  • “I rather let my feelings run away with me” – See quotes from this interview with Inspector Lawrence near the beginning of these notes.
  • Devon” – A county in the southwest of England.
  • “I suppose I keep it with me for protection” – In a statement to the police, Rouse said that he used the mallet to bang out dents in his car, and that he had had it for about six weeks.
  • Jimmy Riddle” – Cockney rhyming slang for “piddle” (urinate).
  • “I could slam it shut and never have to think about it any more” – Or, according to Moore’s view of eternalism, as detailed in Jerusalem, Rouse may end up with no choice but to “think of it” throughout eternity.
  • “proper country fields” – Sentiments similar to those of John Clare from chapter ten.
  • “a little den […] in the reeds” – Rouse seems to be resonating with Stilts from chapter three.
  • “had one” – Had an orgasm.
  • “fiddling the till” – Embezzlement.
  • baggage” – A worthless woman.
  • scanties” – Lingerie.
  • “he looked very awkward, with one leg all squashed up under him” – During the trial, there was considerable argument about the rather odd position the corpse was found in, and how it might have gotten that way. This section is presumably Moore’s attempt to provide an explanation.
  • “the thing” – Note the distancing language used here, avoiding words like “body” or “corpse”.
  • “it wasn’t any language that I’ve ever heard” – Another callback to Boy’s final utterances in chapter one.
  • shufty” – A quick look.
  • “petrol union joint” – A threaded assembly which is part of the piping connecting the gas tank to the engine.
  • carburettor” – A device for mixing fuel and air in the proper proportions for an engine.
  • “couldn’t find the mallet” – The police did, later.
  • “He woke up and started screaming” – The autopsy showed that he was alive for approximately thirty seconds after the fire began, though he would have lost consciousness very quickly.
  • “he kicked the car door open” – The door was open, but (again) there was dispute at the trial as to how it had gotten that way.
  • had his chips” – British idiom for “miss an opportunity” or “be done for”.
  • “this burning leg. To be quite frank I’ve never seen a picture like it” – The image of lost or damaged legs has been a near-constant through this novel, so by now the reader has seen things like it.
  • “‘Well, that’s appropriate'” – In some sense, Rouse is continuing the tradition started by Hob in chapter one, and continued throughout this book, of November human sacrifices.
  • sozzled” – Drunk.
  • “Palais” – French for “palace”; often used in English as part of the name for entertainment venues.
  • Salon de Danse” – A Northampton ballroom in the 1930s.
  • “‘Looks like somebody’s had a bonfire’ or some words to that effect” – Rouse did, indeed, say something like that. This caused him difficulty at trial, where he attempted to maintain that he was hysterical at this time.
  • unmentionables” – Undergarments.
  • England’s Glory” – A brand of matches, perhaps chosen by Moore for the irony of the name.

    England's Glory matchbox
    England’s Glory matchbox
  • “sharp as you like” – British idiom meaning, approximately, “clever”, with sometimes a connotation of “deceitful”.
  • no flies on him” – Another phrase meaning “clever”.
  • “one foot in the door” – It is proverbial that traveling salesmen stick a foot in a door, in order to prevent it from being closed; the expression has come to mean “start out” or “complete the first step”. Using it with the word “one”, however, is unusual, and evokes another phrase, “one foot in the grave“, (“to be near death”) which is arguably a more accurate description of Rouse’s situation.
  • “They’re buying it.” – Idiomatically, “They believe it”, with a pun on Rouse’s job as a salesman.

Closing Remarks

  • The jury, at least, didn’t buy it. After a brief deliberation, the jury found Rouse guilty. He was hanged on March 10.
    • Many people did buy it, especially women. His wife Lily and his lover Helen Campbell stuck by him and continued efforts to get him acquitted right up until the day of his execution. The Guardian printed several letters to the editor suggesting that guilt had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, almost all of which were from women. A petition to reprieve Rouse garnered “thousands” of signatures from “all parts of the country”.
  • Moore takes substantial liberties with Rouse’s motive (or lack thereof). In his final confession (penned just before his execution), Rouse admitted that the government’s theory, that he had deliberately planned to fake his own death and ‘start over’, was essentially correct. Rouse met the intended victim in early November, and thought of using Bonfire Night as a cover, so offered to give him a ride a few days later, on November 5th. Rouse bought a bottle of whiskey for his passenger, intentionally getting him drunk.
    • On the other hand, Rouse is hardly a reliable narrator. His final confession may have been false. Or perhaps in this chapter he is trying out yet another set of lies on his audience…
  • The identity of Rouse’s victim remains unknown to this day, despite many DNA tests against missing persons.
  • On April 12, 1913, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum advertised that their latest “model” was Alfred Arthur Rouse. Two competing books about the Rouse trial were advertised in June.
  • The José Villarrubia illustration for this chapter is a photograph of the cell under the Northampton Guildhall where Rouse stayed until his execution, and which has remained unused since. In a 2000 video called Northampton Tales (parts of which were filmed in 1993), Moore tells Rouse’s story while standing inside his cell.
  • Alan Moore inside Rouse's cell.
    Alan Moore inside Rouse’s cell.
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