View Post

A Marked Man, or, The Trials, Tribulations and Tattoos of Samuel Carlton

The year is 1836, the last year of the reign of William IV, and the sunset of the Georgian era.  The month is March, and the day is the 3rd—a cold and cloudy Thursday.  The setting is the workhouse in Lambeth in Surrey, where one of the inmates has just died. Ordinarily the death of a workhouse pauper would pass without …

View Post

Save My Darling: Love and Attempted Suicide on Clapham Common

The desperate cry of “Save my darling, save my darling!” echoed around Clapham Common at around eleven o’clock on the night of the 4th of May 1871.  Edward Hanniford, native of Devon and local fishmonger, rushed from his shop on the Polygon towards the cry.  Police Constable Reasy, who was on his beat, also hurried towards the commotion.  Both men …

View Post

Charles Dickens’s Deputy, or, The Other Mystery of Edwin Drood

On an August Friday in 1888, with the temperature at 80o in the shade, two seemingly mismatched friends met up in London.  The older of the two, William Richard Hughes, was in his late fifties, while the younger, Frederic George Kitton, was in his early thirties.  Hughes was an important financial official, the Treasurer of the City of Birmingham.  Kitton …

View Post

Charbonnel et Walker: Sweet Rivalry

The prestigious chocolatiers Charbonnel et Walker have been in business since 1875; now their flagship shop can be found at One, The Royal Arcade — the end that opens on to Old Bond Street end.  But who were Charbonnel and Walker?  A quick look on the company’s website will tell you that the founders — Mademoiselle Charbonnel and Mrs Walker …

View Post

Wife Beater, Cheater and Abductor?  Mr Cambray Asks to Go to Prison

Those present at the Clerkenwell Police Court on Saturday the 13th of May 1871 probably sighed inwardly when the case against Leonard Albert Cambray was called.  Yet again a member of the working classes had drunk too much and attacked his wife.  For the forward thinking the only way of ending this vicious cycle was to encourage temperance, educate the …

View Post

The Crimes of the Light-Fingered Clerk

Although Mrs Jane Carolan had not wanted to take a lodger, at least it was some comfort to her that the young man occupying a room in her house at 16 Union Road in Clapham was respectable.  A solicitor’s clerk, he was always well-dressed, and he seemed intent on self-improvement, if the large number of library books he borrowed was …

View Post

A Writer Walks on the Wild Side, or, The Story of Elizabeth Banks

If you read my recent piece on George Ruby, the crossing sweeper, and his relationship with the tragic Jo in Dickens’ Bleak House, you may well have wondered what life was really like for these poor wretches.  They qualify all too readily for the title of overlooked Londoner.  And yet there was one particular crossing sweeper about whom we know …

View Post

A Brother Betrayed, or, The Crime and Punishment of John Vivian

On the 20th of August 1838 a young man stood in the dock at the Old Bailey. His name was John Vivian, and he was twenty-four years old. He was five feet eight inches in height, and of slender build. The charge was burglary, and the inventory of stolen goods was pretty impressive. Eighteen spoons worth £9 10s. Sixteen forks …

View Post

A Trio of Battersea Boy Thieves

In April 1899 Police Constable 390 W was walking the beat in North Street, a thoroughfare that runs from Wandsworth Road to Old Town Clapham.  He spotted a stationary van—a covered wagon that was used for transporting goods and people—and thinking that there was something odd about it he took a closer look.  Inside the van were three young boys …

View Post

Rescuing George Ruby, or, Charles Dickens and the Crossing Sweeper

The story of Jo, the crossing sweeper in Bleak House, is one of Charles Dickens’s most searing indictments of child poverty.  Jo exists at the very edge of human society, with no family and no home, relying on the charity of strangers.  Utterly marginalised, his ignorance is so profound that he sees nothing odd in having only one short name.  …