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Arsenic Poisoning in Kensal New Town: The Hickman Family Tragedy

The 30th of May 1847.  A Sunday morning.  In Middle Row in Kensal New Town the Hickmans, an ordinary working-class London family, were going about their ordinary Sunday business.  The father of the family, Thomas Hickman, was in the back garden putting up his wife’s washing poles.  His wife Harriet and her younger sister Caroline Bonamey were indoors preparing Sunday …

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Peter Carpenter, or, A Bloomsbury Boy in the Baltic

In my recent post on Robert Watts I described the work of the Shoeblack Society.  The Society, which had close links with the Ragged School movement, aimed to rescue young London boys from a life of poverty, and indeed of crime, by instilling in them the skills they needed to earn a living.  Much can be learnt about these boys from …

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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 the 26th of December 1894 Kitty and her husband Harry …

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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 …