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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 …

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Drunk on Love: A Victorian Postman’s Experience of Valentine’s Day

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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Reynolds’s Lost Children: The Strawberry Girl and Others

It is hard not to be captivated by Joshua Reynolds’s painting The Strawberry Girl, which hangs in the Wallace Collection at Hertford House in Manchester Square. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773, Horace Walpole jotted down in his copy of the catalogue the single word “charming”, and we can see what that eminent man of taste …

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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 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 …

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Nestor Tirard and the Crowning Glory

Recently a curious advertisement in The Morning Post dated 1 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 Edinburgh And …

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Charbonnel et Walker: Sweet Rivalry

The prestigious chocolatiers Charbonnel et Walker have been in business since 1875; now their flagship shop can be found at One, The Royal Arcade — the end that opens on to Old Bond Street end.  But who were Charbonnel and Walker?  A quick look on the company’s website will tell you that the founders — Mademoiselle Charbonnel and Mrs Walker …

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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 …