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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 …

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Peckham Past, or, Images of Basing Manor

As a footnote to my recent piece on the Babbs I am returning to Peckham.  Both the Babbs—John Staines and his sister Charlotte Elizabeth—were born in this area of South London.  John painted two delightful oils of weatherboarded houses in the High Street, just yards from the grandly named Basing Manor.  I have already touched on the history of the …

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Poison, Passion, Pie and the Pavilion Theatre

At about nine o’clock on the evening of Tuesday the 30th of July 1850 Mr James Henry Walker Elphinstone, one of the popular comedians and actors of the Royal Pavilion Theatre in Whitechapel, was in his dressing room.  His preparations for the next performance were interrupted by Thomas King, a dresser, who carried with him a small package wrapped in …

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The Most Unkindest Cut, or, The Butcher’s Boy and the Cook

One of the most memorable minor characters in the novels of Charles Dickens is the young butcher in David Copperfield.  We first meet him in Chapter Eighteen, when David is a pupil at Dr Strong’s school in Canterbury.  The description of him—he has a broad face and a bull neck and rough red cheeks—is not exactly flattering.  He greases his …

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The Girl in the Dolly Varden Hat, or, The Suicide of Alice Blanche Oswald

Thomas Ingham, a printer’s compositor, was walking home from work just before six o’clock on the evening of Thursday the 5th of September 1872.  His journey to 80 Webber Street in Waterloo taking him south over the old bridge.  He saw a woman walking briskly towards the second recess from the Middlesex side. The woman was young and petite—just over …