Dead Men’s Teeth
Also available in hard copy for £10 (+£2.50 p&p):
This story was inspired by a post about early dentistry. In the British Library collections there are original advertising posters from London’s dentists in the early 19th century. For a long time human teeth were the best possible solution when making dentures, and after the battle of Waterloo so many young men with decent teeth were killed that the dentures market became flooded with new ‘Waterloo Teeth’. Soon, any teeth harvested from battlefields became known as Waterloo Teeth.
It struck me as grim but poetic that the relatively good teeth of a healthy young plough boy, cut down in his prime, would be recycled to help some fat aristocrat chew sweets. But there was something missing in the chain… How do the teeth get from the battlefield to the dentist? London’s dentists certainly weren’t going around the world chasing wars and returning with freshly harvested teeth. So, I had to create something that would be at least slightly plausible and entertaining.
I thought it should be young women who did the harvesting because men combing the battlefield should really have been in the battle, or they might be seen as looters. Young women could be grieving widows or nurses tending the wounded. They had to be quite poor young women used to manual labour, because pulling hundreds of teeth would be hard graft. They also had to be coordinated by someone in London who was wealthy and well connected to sell their harvest and ship the girls around the world to the battles. A person in this position would probably be male, given the time period, and bit of a dodgy character because it wouldn’t exactly be the most honourable trade. Maybe he has his fingers in a few other illicit enterprises too…
Thus the world of Dead Men’s Teeth was born. We are taken on the macabre adventure of a young woman recruited by a dodgy but dashing surgeon to pull teeth after the battle of Waterloo. It was a lot of fun to write this short story; one day I’d like to explore this world a little more; perhaps in a novel or a feature film script.
In Dead Men’s Teeth and Other Stories Jamie Rhodes has mined and minted gold from the British Library Archives. Inspired by sources as various as a ship’s surgeon’s log, verbatim interviews, diaries or even advertisements for false teeth, Rhodes gives us glimpses into unexpected places, the forgotten corners of history, in stories told with the authentic weirdness of truth; touching, quirky and humane.
—Olivia Hetreed, President of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain
Penned by writer Jamie Rhodes, this great collection of fictional ‘histories’ will be launched at The British Library on 20th October 2014.
Join us at the British Library event on 20th October where costumed actors will perform readings from the historic collections.
Dead Men’s Teeth has been supported by the British Library and funded by The Arts Council as part of a desire to promote emerging writers.
“We are delighted that our Untold Lives blog inspired this set of short stories created from the ‘small but beautiful details of real lives’ in the British Library Archive Collections.” – Margaret Makepeace – British Library Curator – India Office Records
The full collection will be made available over the coming weeks:
Dead Men’s Teeth
Stolen From India
Printed On The Thames
Ignatius Sancho’s Shop
Death Or Australia
Aw How I Did Long fer a Tattie Pasty!
Jamie Rhodes launch at the British Library, 20th October 2014