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Cochrane’s Calculator, or, The Story of Edward Leyden

If you read my earlier post on the work of the National Philanthropic Association, you will know that it was a charitable institution founded in 1842 by Charles Cochrane.  The principal object of the enterprise was to keep the streets of London clean, but it went on to run a soup kitchen in Leicester Square, and a refuge, the Mount …

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A Short Fuse, or, Robert Milnes Newton and the London Fireworks Brigade

On the 8th of November 1886, which was a Monday,  a raggle-taggle mob of youthful defendants found themselves in the dock at the police court in Great Marlborough Street, just off Oxford Street.  The magistrate presiding over the proceedings was Robert Milnes Newton.  You may well recognise the name from the infamous trial of February 1865, when Oscar Wilde had …

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Haunted by Sadness, or, Is 50 Berkeley Square London’s most Ghost-Ridden House?

50 Berkeley Square would appear to be an unlikely location for the most haunted house in London.  This elegant Mayfair townhouse on the west side of the square certainly does not look from the outside as if it would be troubled by disturbed spirits.  Its reputation is probably connected to the popularity of haunted house stories in nineteenth century newspapers—for …

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The Witch of Moorgate

In 1821 Mary Calder, an elderly widow, inhabited a house in New Court, just off Moor Lane. Renting out the first and second floors, she kept the ground floor or parlour floor for her own use, and supplemented her income by taking in washing.  Her lodgers on the first floor were a Mrs Walcot and her attractive and lively young …

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The Haunted Houses of Stamford Street

Mid-nineteenth century London, just south of the river in Southwark.  As darkness falls, a crowd gathers hoping to see the ghostly apparition that haunts an unoccupied run-down building on the south side of Stamford Street, near the junction with Blackfriars Road.  Through the broken windows can be seen the shape of a woman, sometimes even of two, flitting through the …

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The Hound of Fish Street Hill

You may recall a recent post of mine concerning a missionary and his dog.  Well, here is another little story in which the protagonist is once again a dog of quite extraordinary character.  The source of the story is the quaint collection of anecdotes put together by Edward Jesse, for whom see the same earlier post.  Although he had many …

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Grip, or, The Life, Death and Afterlife of Charles Dickens’s Raven

Aficionados of Charles Dickens will recall that a key character in Barnaby Rudge, which was published in 1841, is a talking raven by the name of Grip.  Perhaps it is stretching the definition of “overlooked Londoner” to celebrate a bird in this blog, but the story is so peculiar that it has slipped past editorial control. In his preface to …

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The Short and Sad and Troubled Life of Robert Watts

I am still investigating the identity of George Ruby, who, you will remember, was the young London crossing sweeper befriended by Charles Dickens.  But I am beginning to wonder if he was not George Ruby after all.  Is it possible that he was in fact George Roby? Even if George Roby was not the crossing sweeper of Marylebone, he was …

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By Jingo, or, The Great MacDermott

The story of a little boy named John Farrell who was badly beaten by his teacher, William Weale, was told in a previous post.  Weale’s future career proved easy to track: he became an authority on Flemish art, a published author, and Keeper of the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Finding out what happened to the …

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Making a Splash, or, John Sackhouse at Sadler’s Wells

If you read my recent post on John Sackhouse, you will remember that I referred to the mysterious incident that took place in the Royal Dockyard in Deptford.  What follows is the full story. First, though, a brief recapitulation.  Sackhouse was an Inuit who travelled to Scotland from his native Greenland on board a whaling vessel in 1816.  He made …