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A Star Shining over the Sea, or, The Moving Story of Greta Williams

If you read our earlier piece on Charles Henry Kelly, you will remember that he escaped an incident at sea after warnings of a supernatural nature.  He had been about to cross the Channel on board the SS Hilda, but decided not to at the eleventh hour, for reasons known really only to himself.  Strangely, there is a tradition that the …

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Anonymous Letters from an Artist’s Model

One day in the summer of 1875 a postman approached 21 Wilton Crescent, a tall thin property in London’s Belgravia.  Among the contents of his postbag was a well-sealed package marked for the attention of a Thomas Thornycroft. With an exasperated sigh Thornycroft took the package from the postman.  He then perused the accompanying note, in which the Superintendent of …

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Nikolai Astrup in London, or, A Norwegian Painter Dreaming of Home

Nikolai Astrup is not a name we hear very often.  And yet the Norwegian artist, who died in 1928, produced a body of work that makes him of more than passing interest.  His paintings and woodcuts of the mountains and fields of his native land are imbued with an idiosyncratic vision and an unusual intensity of feeling.  Among the artists …

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The Cradle and the Coffin, or, The Sadness of Elizabeth Brewer

If you read my recent account of the crimes of Elizabeth Brewer, who stole boots from little children, you will remember that I promised that the name would come up again shortly.  Well, it is about to.  For the story I am now going to tell also concerns an Elizabeth Brewer.  However, the two Elizabeths are not the same.  Whereas …

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Light Fingered in Limehouse, or, The Crimes of Elizabeth Brewer

On the 25th of May 1866, which was a Friday, a young man by the name of Joseph Irons was walking along a street in Limehouse in the East End of London.  Suddenly, on seeing a small boy, John Spencer, he came to a halt.  He had noticed two things.  The first was that the little fellow, who was six …

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Fire at Raggett’s Hotel: Part Three

Tuesday the 27th of May dawns—the morning after the fire—and in the bright clear light the ruins of what had been Raggett’s Hotel are visible.  Half of the front and a great part of the back have been destroyed.  But there is some good news when Mr St George, who was feared dead, appears very much alive.  The evening before …

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Fire at Raggett’s Hotel: Part Two

The time is shortly after midnight on Tuesday the 27th of May 1845.  Over the past few days Raggett’s Hotel in Dover Street has been filling up with wealthy guests as they arrive in London for the season, many of them invited to the Queen’s Drawing Room.  One of the guests, Miss Elizabeth King, makes a terrible discovery in her bedroom.  …

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Fire at Raggett’s Hotel: Part One

A fatal fire at a luxury London hotel in 1845 was the subject of extensive newspaper coverage, and caused people to question the safety of public buildings and the efficacy of existing fire rescue services.  Writing almost forty years later Georgiana Bloomfield, who was a witness to the fire, explained in her Reminiscences of Court and Diplomatic Life the impact …

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Medical Marvels, or, Selling Anything to Anyone

If at any point you have read my piece on Benjamin Rackstrow, whose museum at no.197 Fleet Street drew fascinated crowds, you will have realised that he had an extraordinary range of interests.  Many of these were decidedly curious, and few more curious than the Chair of Beatification, an alarming contraption that passed a massive electrical charge through the body …

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Inferno at Campden House in Kensington

In the early hours of Sunday March the 23rd 1862 Kensington was quiet.  Good folk, who were waiting for the sabbath, were in bed, and not so good folk, who were not waiting for the sabbath, were kept indoors by a heavy rain storm and fierce winds.  But this peace was not to last. North of the High Street, and …