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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 …

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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 …

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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.  …

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The Man who Moved the Crystal Palace by Horse and Cart

If you read my post on Loddiges nursery and the Empress Josephine’s palm tree, you might have wondered who the man on the horse is.  Well, the answer is one Thomas Younghusband, and I know this because he wrote a letter to The Times on 29 July 1854, that is to say, two days after the transporting of the tree …

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A Wife on Both Sides of the River

London Overlooked will recall our tribute to the “German siffleur”, the remarkable whistler who entertained certain quarters of nineteenth-century London with his imitations of birds and animals.  He was of, course, the celebrated David von Joel.  And it will be remembered that London could not quite decide what to make of him.  The reviews that he received were on the …

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Algernon Newton, or, The Canaletto of the Surrey Canal

If you read our recent post on The Peckham Ghost, you will remember the haunting picture of the Surrey Canal at Camberwell, which was painted in 1935 by Algernon Newton.  The canal is no more, but in its heyday it snaked through the southern stretches of the capital.  So it is not unreasonable to look on it as a Londoner …

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Drunk on Love: A Victorian Postman’s Valentine’s Day Disgrace

Valentine’s Day was as significant in the Victorian calendar as it is today.  The Globe newspaper of 1855 estimated that, if all the cards delivered in London were stacked on top of each other, they would be taller than the Monument, at 62 metres.  If laid in a line, they would run from London to Dover, a distance of 68 …

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Sōseki Natsume: The Loneliness of a Japanese Writer in London

Many a fine phrase has been spun about old and new London, capturing its bustling spirit, its metropolitan beauty and its romantic heart.  But not all those who have lived and breathed the life of the city have such wonderful words to share with us.  For some it is not solely a centre of great history, art and culture: it …

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The Man Who Stole a Knighthood

One of the strangest stories in the long history of investiture must be the knighting of Francis Columbine Daniel early in the reign of George IV.  The occasion was marked with the usual pomp and ceremony, and was widely reported in the newspapers.  However, not everything was quite what it seemed, and not everyone was impressed. So who was the …

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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 …