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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 with the Victorian undertaker—perhaps unfairly.  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 …

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Save My Darling: Love and Attempted Suicide on Clapham Common

The desperate cry of “Save my darling, save my darling!” echoed around Clapham Common at around eleven o’clock on the night of the 4th of May 1871.  Edward Hanniford, native of Devon and local fishmonger, rushed from his shop on the Polygon towards the cry.  Police Constable Reasy, who was on his beat, also hurried towards the commotion.  Both men …

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Charles Dickens’s Deputy, or, The Other Mystery of Edwin Drood

On an August Friday in 1888, with the temperature at 80o in the shade, two seemingly mismatched friends met up in London.  The older of the two, William Richard Hughes, was in his late fifties, while the younger, Frederic George Kitton, was in his early thirties.  Hughes was an important financial official, the Treasurer of the City of Birmingham.  Kitton …

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Wife Beater, Cheater, Abductor?  Mr Cambray Asks to Go to Prison

Those present at the Clerkenwell Police Court on Saturday the 13th of May 1871 probably sighed inwardly when the case against Leonard Albert Cambray was called.  Yet again a member of the working classes had drunk too much and attacked his wife.  For the forward thinking the only way of ending this vicious cycle was to encourage temperance, educate the …

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The Long Arm of the Law, or The Policeman and the Polar Bear

In June 1839 a curious—and rather unfortunate—incident at the Surrey Zoological Gardens in Newington caused a bit of a stir. One or two newspapers devoted a short paragraph to it, which would have engendered both alarm and pity in their readers.  The incident—or should we think of it as a drama?—had three principal actors.  The first was the superintendent of the …

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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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The Crimes of the Light-Fingered Clerk

Although Mrs Jane Carolan had not wanted to take a lodger, at least it was some comfort to her that the young man occupying a room in her house at 16 Union Road in Clapham was respectable.  A solicitor’s clerk, he was always well-dressed and he seemed intent on self-improvement, if the large number of library books he borrowed was …

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A Riotous Affair, or, A Christmas Story from the Chelsea Workhouse 

The master of the workhouse in Chapter Two of Oliver Twist is one of the most unforgettable characters in nineteenth-century literature.  From the moment he is introduced to us, serving gruel from the copper in his cook’s uniform, he does not stand a chance.  He is fat and healthy, where the inmates he reigns over are starving and scrawny.  His …

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The Magic of Christmas, or, Charles Dickens at Hamley’s

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 …