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The Floating Ark, or, Edward Cross of Exeter Change

How odd to think that a restaurant and a coffee shop in the Strand, almost opposite the Savoy Grill, were once the ramshackle building known in the early nineteenth century as Exeter Change.  The Change—short for “Exchange” in the sense of buying and selling—had been built out as well as up.  The pavement ran right through its ground floor, forming …

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The Eccentric Old Lady of Stamford Street: Cordelia Angelica Read

Mid-nineteenth century London, just south of the river in Southwark.  As darkness falls, a crowd gathers hoping to see the ghostly apparition that haunts an unoccupied run-down building on the south side of Stamford Street, near the junction with Blackfriars Road.  Through the broken windows can be seen the shape of a woman, sometimes even of two, flitting through the …

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Laughter in Court, or, A History of the Victorian Female Barber

On 28th February 1894 a case was brought before Court no. 9 of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in the Strand.  The plaintiff, Charlotte “Lottie” Chettle, a young woman in her early twenties from Swansea, was bringing a claim against Arthur Wicks, a law student, for breach of a promise of marriage.  She was hoping …

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Madame Elise Kreutzer and the Crowded Room

On the night of Thursday 9th May 1895 seventeen young women were working on the couture gowns to be sold in the establishment of Madame Elise Kreutzer at 4 Holles Street off Oxford Street.  The girls, who were certainly poorly paid, had been working long hours in cramped conditions on a day when the temperature reached 70 degrees.  Many of the …

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The Whistling Oyster of Vinegar Yard

Behind the Theatre Royal in the Covent Garden area of London there was once a narrow court called Vinegar Yard.  All that remains of it now is a passage, entered through an arched gateway.  But there was a time when you could walk through Vinegar Yard from Drury Lane to what was then Bridges Street or Brydges Street.  And it …

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Killed by a Corset? The Tragic Tale of Kitty Tyrrell, a Victorian Actress

The lives of most Victorian jobbing actresses are largely forgotten, their performances barely recorded apart from a few brief mentions in the theatrical papers.  And this would no doubt have been the fate of Kitty Tyrrell, if she had not had the misfortune to be killed by her corset. On Tuesday 26th December 1894 Kitty and her husband Harry Ewins …

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A Life Preserved: Francis Columbine Daniel

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 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 …