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The Poisonous Pownall Sisters of Stoke Newington

The respectable Misses Pownall—Martha and Sarah—were certain that their brother was being slowly poisoned by his wife, no doubt to get her hands on his army pension.  They had not liked Emma from the start: she was much too young at twenty-seven to make Thomas at fifty-one a good wife.  This suspicion turned to certainty when they saw her and …

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William Turner & Son, or, The Barber of Maiden Lane

We at London Overlooked see it as our raison d’être to search the shadowy corners of the city’s history for the lesser known.  And of all the causes of undeserved obscurity, none can be more poignant than the brilliance of one’s own child.  Which is why we have chosen to write about Turner. Not about Joseph Mallord William Turner, the painter, but …

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Reynolds Revisited: Who was the Strawberry Girl?

Readers of this blog with an interest in art may well remember that this question was raised in an earlier piece on Sir Joshua Reynolds’s delightful picture The Strawberry Girl, which hangs in the Wallace Collection at Hertford House in Manchester Square.  We stated there that the identity of the great artist’s young subject has long been shrouded in mystery.  …

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The Peckham Ghost

Just before 7 p.m. on Sunday the 10th of November 1872.  Misses Margaret and Constance Carver were preparing to go to church with their governess, Mary Prentice.  They were daughters of Canon Alfred Carver, headmaster of Dulwich College, and they lived with their family in the south wing of the new College buildings in semi-rural Dulwich. Margaret, who at thirteen years …

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The Magic of Christmas, or, Charles Dickens and Hamley’s of High Holborn

One of the most delightful items of Dickensiana to have come my way is the memoir of her father—My Father As I Recall Him—written by Mary “Mamie” Dickens.  The 1897 edition printed by the Roxburghe Press is a slim octavo, its blue cover adorned with a gold embossed image, the significance of which is explained by the author in Chapter …

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Staring Death in the Face, or, The Atrocious Attack on William Day

If you read our article on the wolf that escaped from the menagerie in the Strand—the menagerie on the upper floors of Exeter Change—then you will certainly have felt sorry for William Day.  He was the trunk-maker living next door to Exeter Change, and it was his premises the fugitive wolf entered through a skylight on a stormy morning in …

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A Star Shining over the Sea, or, The Moving Story of Greta Williams

If you read our post on Charles Henry Kelly, you will remember that he escaped an incident at sea after warnings of a supernatural nature.  He had been about to cross the Channel on board the SS Hilda, but decided not to at the eleventh hour, for reasons known really only to himself.  Strangely, there is a tradition that the …

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Keeping it in the Family: the Infamous and Bigamous John Blair Wills

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT Sometime in 1850 a nineteen-year-old medic called John Blair Wills fell in love at first sight with a beautiful girl he spotted on a London omnibus.  Following the girl home, he asked her mother, who was very surprised, for her daughter’s hand in marriage.  He explained that he had good prospects and was of respectable stock: …

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The Duchess’s Wolf, or, A Strange Story from the Strand

The morning of the 2nd of March in the year 1820—a Thursday just weeks into the reign of George IV—was a stormy one in London.  Between five and six o’clock in the morning the wind began to blow with great violence from the north west.  As darkness lifted the wind grew stronger, until it was gusting enough to inflict damage …

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Remembering Albert Midgley, Musician, 1892-1918

“It is simply appalling that two strong men of sterling character and great promise should be rudely taken out of the world.”  Fred Midgley 1918. Albert Midgely was born on the 21st of January 1892 in Perth in Scotland, the third son of English parents Fred and Alice Midgley.  The Midgleys had settled in Scotland in 1890 when Fred, a …