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The Rat-Catcher’s Daughters

Unlike many school leavers neither Nell or Kitty Jarvis of Camberwell in London had to worry about what to do next.  For they were destined to join their father in the noble art of rat-catching. This necessary occupation attracted the attention of the journalist Henry Mayhew, who wrote extensively about rat-catchers in London Labour and the London Poor.  He gave …

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Loddiges of Hackney, or, The Empress’s Tree Goes South

If you had been walking through the streets of what in 1854 was the village of Hackney on the 27th of July—a warm summer’s day—you would have witnessed a remarkable sight.  A team of twenty horses were making their way, very slowly indeed, down Mare Street, heading south.  They were harnessed to a massive carriage—effectively a sturdy platform on wheels of …

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Down Among the Paddington Dust Heaps, or, The Story of Henry Pearson

In volume 5 of Old and New London Edward Walford describes at length what was then the north-western suburb of Paddington.  Time had wrought dramatic changes.  When the Great Western Railway opened in 1840, the wide spaces of Paddington were still a patchwork of market and nursery gardens, and working men and working women lived in picturesque poverty in red-tiled …

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Facing the Music: Mr Rawlins and the Organ Grinding Nuisance

Noise nuisance, it would appear, is not a modern problem.  The soundscape of Victorian London was redolent with the clatter of horse-drawn vehicles, bustling railway stations, cries of costermongers, barking stray dogs and incessant street music—all of which, particularly the last, could drive Londoners, such as Mr Thomas James Rawlins, to distraction. In 1861 Henry Mayhew estimated that there were …

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Queen Victoria’s Hairdresser: Nestor Tirard and the Crowning Glory

Recently a curious advertisement in The Morning Post dated the 1st of March 1879 caught my eye: Her Majesty’s Drawing Rooms Lessons in the correct court headdress as Approved at the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, given daily by Nestor Tirard, Coiffeur Fleuriste by special appointments To her Majesty the Queen H.R.H. the Princess of Wales H.I. and R.H. the Duchess of …

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How to Get Sent to a Victorian Reform School

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 …

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A Window in Whitechapel, or, The Sad Story of Eliza Wilmot

In the winter of 1848 a rather melancholy case came before the magistrate’s court in Worship Street in Shoreditch.  Presiding over the court was Mr Hammill. The complainant was a man by the name of Saunders.  He was a dealer in furs, with premises in the Whitechapel Road in the East End.  The defendant was one Eliza Wilmot, and we …

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William Weale, Brother Francis and the Bad Boy

The victim was scarified from ankle to thigh, with some deeper cuts marking his mottled flesh.  One witness described his buttocks as resembling nothing so much as raw beef with blood streaming from it.  The damage had been caused by a punishment beating of between thirteen to twenty strokes with a two-foot-long gutta percha rule. Before he collapsed on the …

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One Man and His Dog, or, Edward Wix Comes Home

There is rather a good story about a missionary and his dog.  We feel it fully qualifies for inclusion here, as it is a nineteenth-century story with a London connection.  Aside from the two protagonists—the human and the canine—there is a ship and a ship’s captain and a hospital.  The joy of the story lies in part in the connections …

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Colonel Rackstrow’s Peculiar Museum

Walk along the north pavement of Fleet Street between Chancery Lane and Bell Yard, and you will pass a heavily rusticated building of imposing proportions, home of an executive recruitment firm and a magazine publishing company.  But in the late eighteenth century there stood here a row of brick-fronted premises, one of which was owned by a Benjamin Rackstrow.  He …