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Topping, or, The Real Life of Charles Dickens’s Cockney Servant

One of Charles Dickens’s liveliest characters—a character drawn with unerring precision and a sharp ear for idiosyncrasies of language—never made it into his novels.  Instead, he occupies an honourable place in the great writer’s personal correspondence.  Unlike Bill Sykes, or Stephen Blackpool, or Sam Weller—more of Sam Weller later—he was real.  He was a servant, and his name was William …

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Dirty, Dishonest and Badly Behaved: Sophia Jarvis, Victorian Maid

On Friday 19th December 1862 a small, emaciated, ragged young woman came to the gatehouse of the Mitcham Industrial School and asked to be admitted.  It was with some surprise that Mrs Charlotte Cuttress, the porter’s wife, heard that the girl was called Sophia Jarvis.  Sophia, a former pupil, had gone into service over a year ago with a very respectable …

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The Sadness of Clowns, or, The Strange Death of Giuseppe Grimaldi

Joseph Grimaldi, the famous Regency actor, has achieved immortality as the great pantomime clown, the original “Joey” of circus tradition.  But what of his father Giuseppe?  A native of Genoa, and a dentist by profession, Giuseppe came to London in about 1760, where he was engaged by David Garrick at Drury Lane as a dancer and pantomime buffoon.  He has …