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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 …

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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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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 …