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The End of the Line, or, The Sad Story of Louisa Marshall

Suppose that you had been a Londoner—or a visitor to London—in about the year 1896.  And suppose that you were strolling down Tottenham Court Road, which in late Victorian times was far from fashionable.  Only twenty years before, that eminent collector of Londiniana, Edward Walford, had described it as a world of lodgings and garrets and attics, a world of …

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The Not-So-Famous Ethel Cox, or, Fashioning an Education

My aim in this piece is to recognise the life and achievements of the not-so-famous Ethel Cox—rather than her namesake, the suffragette Ethel Cox. What the lesser known Ethel thought about female suffrage I do not know, but, as she spent her working life improving the education of thousands of largely working-class girls, I can only imagine she was in …

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Horror in the Strand

If you have read my recent piece on Edward Cross, you will remember that he was the proprietor of a menagerie in Regency London.  The menagerie, which perched on the upper floors of Exeter Change in the Strand, had many remarkable features.  None, though, was more remarkable than its resident elephant. The elephant—Chuny or Chunee—had originally been imported from Kolkata, …

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The Floating Ark, or, Edward Cross of Exeter Change

How odd to think that a restaurant and a coffee shop in the Strand, almost opposite the Savoy Grill, were once the ramshackle building known in the early nineteenth century as Exeter Change.  The Change—short for “Exchange” in the sense of buying and selling—had been built out as well as up.  The pavement ran right through its ground floor, forming …

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Peter Stokes, or, The Flying Pieman of Fetter Lane

If you read our recent piece on Joseph Freeman and Thomas Williams, who stole a silk handkerchief belonging to one Robert Campbell Mallett, and were transported for their pains, you will no doubt have come away with a vivid impression of the area of London in which the two pickpockets operated.  That area was Holborn.  As well as affording rich …

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Missing Mother, or, A Chapter in a Coffee House History

This is the story of a strange incident involving a coffee house that operated in the London of George the Third.  The story has two principal characters—not including the coffee house!—and the fact of the matter is that neither is known to us by name.  Well, one is known by his initials, but even they are a matter of dispute.  …

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Call Me Julius Caesar, or, The Fishmonger’s Story

If you look in the London directories for the early twentieth century, you will come across a fellow by the name of J C Moore.  He was a fishmonger, and he lived in South London, dying in 1935 at the age of fifty.  He lies buried in Streatham Cemetery—in the same resting place as Henry Budden of Lambeth, about whom we …

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Castles in the Air, or, The History of Raymond’s Folly

In what is really a footnote to my recent piece on magic lantern shows—for which click here—I wanted to add a bit more about Hoppety Bob.  But first a reminder.  Bob was the little tailor with the withered leg who was wonderfully kind to the poor neighbourhood children.  According to Richard Rowe, who wrote so touchingly about him, he lived …

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Keeping it in the Family: The Infamous and Bigamous John Blair Wills

Sometime in 1850 a nineteen-year-old medic called John Blair Wills fell in love at first sight with a beautiful girl he spotted on a London omnibus.  Following the girl home he asked her mother, who was very surprised, for her daughter’s hand in marriage.  He explained that he had good prospects and was of respectable stock: his late father had …

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The Man with at least Two Faces, or, The Strange Story of Arthur Wicks

Readers of my most recent post will recall Lottie Chettle, who worked in Louisa Gross’s barber’s shop in Chancery Lane in the late Victorian era.  She was born Charlotte Chettle in Huntingdonshire in 1873, but later lived in Swansea, and when she turned nineteen she came up to London, where she became entangled with a young man by the name of …