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The Mystery of the Blue Grave: Henry Budden of Lambeth

Opened in 1892, Streatham Cemetery in Tooting is a pleasant spot, in spite of being on a noisy and busy road leading to Wandsworth.  Scan the horizon, and you will see that most of the older graves are of a uniform soft grey stone.  Then, near the west chapel, something incongruous meets the eye: a navy blue “something” that looks …

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John Willis of Seven Dials, or, The Stuff of London Legend

If you read our recent post on Grip, the raven much beloved of Charles Dickens, you will remember that it was removed from the writer’s home on its demise in March 1841 in a covered basket, and was returned stuffed, in a rather fine glass-fronted “rustic” case.  In other words, it had been taken to a taxidermist.  Sadly, we have …

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Grip, or, The Life, Death and Afterlife of Charles Dickens’s Raven

Aficionados of Charles Dickens will recall that a key character in Barnaby Rudge, which was published in 1841, is a talking raven by the name of Grip.  Perhaps it is stretching the definition of “overlooked Londoner” to celebrate a bird in this blog, but the story is so peculiar that it has slipped past editorial control. In his preface to …

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A Theatrical Undertaker: Theophilus Dunkley

Theophilus Dunkley was described by those who knew him as convivial, clubbable, charitable and very fond of the music hall, not qualities one immediately associates—perhaps unfairly—with the Victorian undertaker.  Theo lived on and around Westminster Bridge Road all his life, and now rests in Lambeth Cemetery in Tooting among the many variety performers who were both his friends and clients. …

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Strangers on a Train, or, A Curious Encounter on the North Kent Line

At the heart of this little story is a young woman who is an overlooked Londoner in the strictest sense.  She is in fact so overlooked that nothing is known about her beyond the details that follow.  All incidentals—her name, her age, her occupation—have been lost forever.  But she has not, thanks to a remarkable encounter on a train. The …

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Making a Splash: John Sackhouse at Sadler’s Wells

If you read my recent post on John Sackhouse, you will remember that I referred to the mysterious incident that took place in the Royal Dockyard in Deptford.  What follows is the full story. First, a brief recapitulation.  Sackhouse was an Inuit who travelled to Scotland from his native Greenland on board a whaling vessel in 1816.  He made a …

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The Not-So-Famous Ethel Cox: Fashioning an Education

On what is International Women’s Day I want to recognise the life and achievements of the not-so-famous Ethel Cox—rather than her namesake, the suffragette Ethel Cox. What the lesser known Ethel thought about female suffrage I don’t know, but, as she spent her working life improving the education of thousands of largely working-class girls, I can only imagine she was …

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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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John Sackhouse, or, An Inuit Comes to London

If you read our recent post on Valentine’s Day postmen, you will see a connection with this next item in the rather sad twist at the end! We start, though, on a chilly Saturday late in March, 1818. Although the temperature in London would not rise above 47 degrees Fahrenheit, a large crowd had gathered in the Royal Dockyard in …