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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 …

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Family Art, or, John Staines Babb and Charlotte Elizabeth Babb

Among the hidden treasures of the British art world are two small oil paintings of South London by John Staines Babb dated 1896.  They are in fact a pair, showing the same scene from two different viewpoints.  Babb, who died in the early years of the twentieth century, is not an artist one is likely to hear about in the …

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Undesirable or Unlucky Maid? Lucy Constable and the Walworth Robbery

On the 24th of February 1856 an anguished cry for help echoed around Sutherland Square in Walworth, disturbing the peace of a Sunday evening, when the good folk of the neighbourhood were either at church or occupied with suitable sabbath activities.  Rushing from their houses they found a young maidservant bleeding profusely from her neck and hand and begging for …

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The Duchess’s Wolf, or, A Strange Story from the Strand

The morning of the 2nd of March in the year 1820—a Thursday just weeks into the reign of George IV—was a stormy one in London.  Between five and six o’clock in the morning the wind began to blow with great violence from the north west.  As darkness lifted the wind grew stronger, until it was gusting enough to inflict damage …

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On Thin Ice, or, The Pleasures and Perils of Winter in the Parks

Readers who enjoy their Dickens will remember Mr Pickwick sliding on the ice at Dingley Dell.  Hablot Knight Browne—“Phiz”—illustrated the scene in the 1837 edition of the novel, and, although his was only the first of many interpretations of this memorable episode, it has never really been surpassed.  Pickwick used to slide “on the gutters” when he was a boy, …

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Chocks Away, or, The Great Race of Eighteen Seventy-One

There is a remarkable picture in the issue of the Graphic published on the 8th of July 1871.  The scene is dominated by a flock of birds streaming up into the sky from a building of vast dimensions, which on closer inspection turns out to be the Crystal Palace in Sydenham.  The dwarfing of the distant structure by the birds …

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A Criminal Converted, or, The Story of Ned Wright

In February 1894 three disreputable young men from Whitechapel were put on trial at the Old Bailey.  They had been caught one night on the roof of the Abbey Mills Distillery in West Ham Lane in Stratford, busily stealing ten hundredweight of lead.  A police constable, who had climbed about thirty feet up on to the roof, confronted the thieves.  …