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Trouble’s Afoot, or, The Rival Chiropodists of Regent Street

The newspapers tell us that on Tuesday the 18th of March 1856 Mr Bearnard was at work at No. 59 Regent Street in central London, waiting for clients to avail themselves of his skills.  These were proclaimed—rather grandiloquently—on a brass plate outside his door: G. F. Bearnard Surgeon-chiropodist Those of an unkind disposition might rather dismissively have called him a …

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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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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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Fully Figged and Fleet of Foot, or, Giving the Duke a Bloody Nose

One of the more curious London tavern signs, which has now disappeared, depicted a chap dressed in a short jockey-coat and breeches, with a sash round his waist and a large feather in his cap.  He was carrying a staff of sorts with a metal ball at its top end.  He appeared to be running along a country road, and …

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The Heist on Holborn Hill

The name of George Bradshaw is forever linked with the railway guides that were at one time in every traveller’s pocket.  In fact the publishing company founded by Bradshaw spread its net far wider than timetables, and among the many titles that came out under its patronage was a rather splendid handbook to London, which first appeared in 1880, price …

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The Magic of Christmas, or, Charles Dickens and Hamley’s of High Holborn

One of the most delightful items of Dickensiana to have come my way is the memoir of her father—My Father As I Recall Him—written by Mary “Mamie” Dickens.  The 1897 edition printed by the Roxburghe Press is a slim octavo, its blue cover adorned with a gold embossed image, the significance of which is explained by the author in Chapter …

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Tavern Rats, or, The Strange Story of Edward Shuter

A good story is told about a fellow called Edward Shuter.  He was a Methodist, of sorts, although his religious leanings do not concern us that much.  He was also an actor on the London stage, and his theatrical activities concern us rather more.  He was a man of the eighteenth century, born early in the reign of George II …

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A Young Father, or, Shocking Immorality in the Pentonville Road

On Wednesday the 23rd of March 1870 regular visitors to the Thames Police Court in Arbour Street in Stepney witnessed the sadly common sight of a young woman bringing a summons for support against the father of her illegitimate child.  Like Mr Franklin Lushington, the attending magistrate, they no doubt sat back waiting for the usual story of seduction and betrayal, …

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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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A Phoenix at Eventide, or, The Story of William Henry Monk

This is the story of William Henry Monk.  He was a professor of music, and, if perhaps his name is not familiar to you, a melody he composed in a moment of inspiration most certainly will be.  But it is also the story of his daughter Florence—full name Florence Emily Caroline Monk—who unwittingly provided that inspiration.  But you are warned …