Flame-Coloured Taffeta is a novella for younger children published in 1986. It was apparently in planning as early as 1983, when Sutcliff described her next project in a BBC Radio Desert Island Discs interview as "only a very little book, but I hope it’s going to be all right. But it’s about this part of the world, Sussex, with a smuggling background."


Damaris Crocker, the twelve-year-old daughter of a farmer in the Manhood Peninsula, returns home from Joyous Gard (as she calls the ruined cottage in the woods where she and her best friend Peter Ballard are keeping a convalescent vixen) to the tune of a wandering fiddler and a chalk cross on the barn, signalling a Run of smuggled goods from France taking place that evening. That night, having gone to bed wishing upon a star for a flame-coloured petticoat like the one she once saw on a gypsy dancer, she hears shots fired (1). The next afternoon at Joyous Gard, she discovers a young man, apparently a sea-smuggler, shot in the leg and unconscious (2).

Damaris and Peter hide the still-bleeding man in the cottage and Damaris enlists the aid of the village's eccentric Wise Woman, Genty Small, the only person who can be relied upon to both help the smuggler and keep it secret (3). Armed with a barber-surgeon's instruments, Genty extracts the bullet from the smuggler's leg. In the process, they notice that he is concealing an oilskin packet on his person (4). The next day, Damaris introduces herself to the young man, who gives the name Tom Wildgoose and claims that he is not a smuggler but cargo. Peter surmises that he may be a spy (5). Tom assures Damaris that he is not; he is carrying letters, but they can pose no danger to England or King George (6).

A few days later, when Tom is nearly recovered enough to leave for Chichester and the stage-coach to London, Damaris mentions the dancer she once saw and the flame-coloured taffeta petticoat she has wished for ever since. Tom, the only person who has ever understood this, promises to send her one day the material as a wedding gift. Just then, Lady the vixen arrives to take refuge in Joyous Gard from the local squire's fox hunt, and to protect her and Damaris from the hounds, Tom puts on the accents of a French sailor, inspiring young Mr. Farrington to call off the dogs and hale Tom away to a temporary prison in his stables (7).

Damaris goes to Genty, who dispatches her to Mr. Farrington's horse master Matthew Binns with a polite request to arrange Tom's escape, and a warning if he won't: a wax heart with thorns driven through it. Mr. Binns, who knows "enough of his own skills to be afraid of hers", agrees to do it (8). At one in the morning, Damaris is waiting in the Big House's garden folly when a high-strung horse upsets a lantern and someone frees the prisoner lest the stables go up in flames. She conceals the exhausted Tom in Genty's cottage (9). Next morning, her visit to Genty's coincides with that of two Customs House men searching the village. Genty reveals to Damaris a trapdoor over a cellar concealing both Tom and brandy kegs (10).

Peter, concluding that a spy would not have gotten himself arrested, agrees to lead Tom back to Joyous Gard to collect his hidden packet of letters, and Tom confesses that they are from the would-be king in exile: he is a Jacobite rebel. Damaris is dismayed, and Tom bitterly explains that Prince Charles Edward and his followers can no longer do anything to destabilize England or the reigning King George, but though the cause is lost, Tom cannot abandon it (11).

That evening Damaris overhears her father's head groom and the squire's bailiff hurriedly arranging to land that night's Run at Denman's Rife to avoid the lurking Customs men and soldiers. Damaris must warn Peter and Tom before they walk into the middle of it (12). She finds them at Joyous Gard with the Run going on around them, but before Tom can set off for Chichester, he and Peter "borrow" two of the smugglers' horses for the journey, leaving Damaris behind.

Five years later, Damaris and Peter, soon to be married, find a smuggler's packet addressed to Damaris: the material for a bridal petticoat of flame-coloured taffeta (13).


Flame-Coloured Taffeta takes place in March of 1750, five years after Bonnie Prince Charlie's attempted uprising of 1745. A short coda follows the characters forward to 1755.

  • 1740 (2): Samuel Richardson publishes Pamela
  • August 1745-April 1746 (2): Prince Charles Edward Stewart's failed Jacobite rebellion
  • Harvest 1747 (1): Damaris sees a dancer with a flame-coloured petticoat
  • Summer 1749 (1): Damaris and Peter discover the cottage
  • March 1750 (1): Damaris and Peter keep an injured vixen
    • Day 1 (1): The Customs men intercept a Run; Tom Wildgoose shot
    • Day 2 (2-4): Damaris discovers Tom at Joyous Gard; Genty operates on his leg
    • Day 3 (5): Damaris and Tom Wildgoose introduce themselves
    • Day 4 (5): Tom is feverish; they release Lady
    • Day 5&6 (6): Tom is feverish
    • Day 7 (6): Tom hides the papers
    • "Over the next few days" (6): Tom recovers, Lady reappears
    • "A few days later" (6): Tom starts walking
    • 3-4 days later (6-7): Tom is captured
    • Next day (9): Tom escapes; the Customs House searches the village; a Run is scheduled; Tom departs for good
  • 1755, September (13): Damaris and Peter marry


  • At Carthagena Farm:
    • Damaris Crocker (1), twelve-year-old heiress of the farm.
    • John Crocker (1), Damaris's father
    • Aunt Selina (1), a romantic
    • Caleb Henty (1), horseman and smuggler
    • Dick Nye (2), the second horseman and smuggler
    • Madge (3), the dairy-maid, a Genty Small customer
    • Sim Bundy (5), the shepherd, elderly
    • Hannah (5), the kitchen-maid, elderly
    • Snowball (1), Damaris's fat white pony
    • Swallow (1), John Crocker's riding horse
    • Daisy, Dolly, Beauty (1), plow horses
    • True (1), the yard dog
    • Sukie (1), the cat
  • In Somerley Green village:
    • At the Vicarage:
      • Peter Ballard (1), a thirteen-year-old schoolboy in Chichester, farming enthusiast.
      • Mrs. Ballard (1), Peter's mother, not at home to foxes
      • The Vicar (1), Peter's father, not a countryman
      • Ben (2), the gardener
      • Great Aunt (7), visiting patron of education
    • Genty Small (1), the Wise Woman, possibly of Romany extraction
      • Grizelda (3), a small grey cat
      • Maudlin (3), a white nanny-goat
    • Silas Bundy (2), rheumatic
    • Granny Mason (4), chest complaint
  • At the Big House:
    • old Mrs. Farrington (1)
    • young Mr. Farrington (2), a fine gentleman
    • Luke Aylmer (1), the farm bailiff
    • Matthew Binns (2), the head groom, a man of power
    • Lucifer (11), a horse
  • Tom Wildgoose (2), a young loyalist of Bonnie Prince Charlie, a romantic
  • Lady (1), a lame vixen, inmate of the Joyous Gard
  • Shadow Mason (1), a one-eyed fiddler and smuggler's messenger
  • A Customs House officer (10), a big man in a blue coat
  • Benjamin (10), a younger and junior Customs officer
  • Daniel Cobby (12), tapster of the Black Horse
  • Doctor Godwyn (3), of Chichester
  • Gypsies (1), a dancer in a flame-coloured petticoat and a fiddler, occasional visitors
  • Mr. Samuel Richardson (2), author of Pamela
  • Prince Charles Edward Stewart (2), alias Bonnie Prince Charlie, the 'King over the water'
  • Cervantes (6), an old friend of Tom's
  • King George I (6), reigning
  • Queen Charlotte (12), fashionable



  • The Manhood Peninsula, at the western end of the coast of Sussex
    • The Manhood, once "the Main Wood"
      • Denman's Rife, a river at the edge of the marsh
      • Joyous Gard aka Tumbledown, a ruined cottage in the woods beside Denman's Rife
      • Woodhorn Crossway, a crossroads
    • Carthagena Farm, Damaris's home; an actual place moved south and modified (Author's Note), build from the timbers of an Armada galleon.
      • South Field
      • Dinder Meadow
      • Church Mead
    • Somerley Green village, half a dozen miles south of Chichester
      • The Big House, the Farringtons'
        • Dame's Folly, a Romanesque garden ornament
      • the blacksmith's, the wheelwright's
      • the Mermaid alehouse
      • The Vicarage, Peter's home
      • The Church
        • Glebe Field
      • the Green
      • Genty Small's cottage
    • the seaward marshes
    • Marsh Farm, south of Carthagena, where the Runs usually land
    • Itchenor, village in the northwest corner of the Manhood, part of the smuggling ring
    • Selsey, village at the south point of the peninsula
    • fisher cottages, at the shore
    • Church Dyke, between the fishers and Somerley Green
    • the Black Horse taproom, address unclear
    • Wittering, village in the west of the Manhood
    • Birdham, village in the northwest of the Manhood, part of the smuggling ring
    • Earnley, village in the west of the Manhood
  • Chichester, north of the Manhood, location of Peter's school
    • Chichester Cathedral
    • Chichester Harbour, west of the Manhood
  • The [South] Downs, chalk hills north of Chichester
  • Horsham, whence the Troopers are coming for the raid


  • Portsmouth, Hampshire, immediately west of Chichester Harbour
  • London, destination of smuggled goods
  • France, with which England is not currently at war
    • St. Germaine, [Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye], court of the exiled Jacobites

Background and referencesEdit

  • William Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 1, Act 1 scene 2: "a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta".
  • "Spanish Ladies", traditional
  • Samuel Richardson, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote:
  • Richard Hakluyt, Voyages
  • William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 2 scene 1: "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania." (11)
  • The Gentleman's Magazine
  • Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill: Smuggler's Song

Publication historyEdit

  1. Oxford University Press, 1986. Hardcover.
  2. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1986, 1987, 1989. Hardcover.
  3. RHCP Digital [Random House Children's Publishers UK], 2013. E-book.