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The Magic of Christmas, or, Charles Dickens at Hamley’s

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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A Writer Walks on the Wild Side, or, The Story of Elizabeth Banks

If you read my recent piece on George Ruby, the crossing sweeper, and his relationship with the tragic Jo in Dickens’ Bleak House, you may well have wondered what life was really like for these poor wretches.  They qualify all too readily for the title of overlooked Londoner.  And yet there was one particular crossing sweeper about whom we know …

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A Brother Betrayed, or, The Crime and Punishment of John Vivian

On the 20th of August 1838 a young man stood in the dock at the Old Bailey.  His name was John Vivian, and he was twenty-four years old.  He was five feet eight inches in height, and of slender build.  The charge was burglary, and the inventory of stolen goods was pretty impressive.  Eighteen spoons worth £9 10s.  Sixteen forks …

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Rescuing George Ruby, or, Charles Dickens and the Crossing Sweeper

The story of Jo, the crossing sweeper in Bleak House, is one of Charles Dickens’s most searing indictments of child poverty.  Jo exists at the very edge of human society, with no family and no home, relying on the charity of strangers.  Utterly marginalised, his ignorance is so profound that he sees nothing odd in having only one short name.  …

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Algernon Newton, or, The Canaletto of the Surrey Canal

If you read our recent post on The Peckham Ghost, you will remember the haunting picture of the Surrey Canal at Camberwell, which was painted in 1935 by Algernon Newton.  The canal is no more, but in its heyday it snaked through the southern stretches of the capital.  So it is not unreasonable to look on it as a Londoner …

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Flying Flowerpots, or, The Strange Story of the Camberwell Ghost

The report on the Surrey Sessions printed in the South London Press on Saturday the 7th December 1872 makes fascinating reading.  The venue was the Sessions House in Newington Causeway, and the forty-five cases were tried by William Hardman and a supporting cast of fellow magistrates.  Forty-four of the prisoners were charged with felony, and one with misdemeanour.  Only three could …

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The Eccentric Old Lady of Stamford Street: Cordelia Angelica Read

Mid-nineteenth century London, just south of the river in Southwark.  As darkness falls, a crowd gathers hoping to see the ghostly apparition that haunts an unoccupied run-down building on the south side of Stamford Street, near the junction with Blackfriars Road.  Through the broken windows can be seen the shape of a woman, sometimes even of two, flitting through the …

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Lights Out, or, The Strange Story of the Plaistow Ghost

You may have read my recent piece on the Woburn Square ghost, which can be found by following this link.  The essence of that affair, which occurred in 1867, was that rumours of hauntings and other supernatural phenomena were liable to whip up a sort of collective hysteria.  A desire for free entertainment combined with honest curiosity was able to …

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The Witch of Moorgate

In 1821 Mary Calder, an elderly widow, inhabited a house in New Court, just off Moor Lane.  Renting out the first and second floors, she kept the ground floor or parlour floor for her own use, and supplemented her income by taking in washing.  Her lodgers on the first floor were a Mrs Walcot and her attractive and lively young …

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Shades of Opinion, or, The Great Ghost Debate of 1881

In 1881 the Daily Telegraph printed a remarkable series of letters submitted by its readers to the editor.  In total there were almost seventy, and all appeared in October, the first on the 6th and the last on the 28th.  While some were no longer than a single paragraph, others were many paragraphs in length, and a few extended over …