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How to Get Sent to a Victorian Reform School

In April 1899 Police Constable 390 W was walking the beat in North Street, a thoroughfare that runs from Wandsworth Road to Old Town Clapham.  He spotted a stationary van—a covered wagon that was used for transporting goods and people—and thinking that there was something odd about it he took a closer look.  Inside the van were three young boys …

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A Window in Whitechapel, or, The Sad Story of Eliza Wilmot

In the winter of 1848 a rather melancholy case came before the magistrate’s court in Worship Street in Shoreditch.  Presiding over the court was Mr Hammill. The complainant was a man by the name of Saunders.  He was a dealer in furs, with premises in the Whitechapel Road in the East End.  The defendant was one Eliza Wilmot, and we …

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William Weale, Brother Francis and the Bad Boy

The victim was scarified from ankle to thigh, with some deeper cuts marking his mottled flesh.  One witness described his buttocks as resembling nothing so much as raw beef with blood streaming from it.  The damage had been caused by a punishment beating of between thirteen to twenty strokes with a two-foot-long gutta percha rule. Before he collapsed on the …

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One Man and His Dog, or, Edward Wix Comes Home

There is rather a good story about a missionary and his dog.  We feel it fully qualifies for inclusion here, as it is a nineteenth-century story with a London connection.  Aside from the two protagonists—the human and the canine—there is a ship and a ship’s captain and a hospital.  The joy of the story lies in part in the connections …

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Colonel Rackstrow’s Peculiar Museum

Walk along the north pavement of Fleet Street between Chancery Lane and Bell Yard, and you will pass a heavily rusticated building of imposing proportions, home of an executive recruitment firm and a magazine publishing company.  But in the late eighteenth century there stood here a row of brick-fronted premises, one of which was owned by a Benjamin Rackstrow.  He …

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The Prince and the Paupers, or, The Soup Kitchen in Leicester Square

Can a building qualify as an overlooked Londoner?  On this website it can.  Take for example no.40 Leicester Square, which is currently festooned with hoardings and scaffolding.  Next year, if all goes to plan, it will open as a luxury hotel.  Formerly it was a cinema, which opened in 1930 as the Leicester Square Theatre, and was renamed the Odeon …

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A Theatrical Undertaker: Theophilus Dunkley

Theophilus Dunkley was described by those who knew him as convivial, clubbable, charitable and very fond of the music hall, not qualities one immediately associates—perhaps unfairly—with the Victorian undertaker.  Theo lived on and around Westminster Bridge Road all his life, and now rests in Lambeth Cemetery in Tooting among the many variety performers who were both his friends and clients. …

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A Marked Man, or, The Trials, Tribulations and Tattoos of Samuel Carlton

The year is 1836, the last year of the reign of William IV, and the sunset of the Georgian era.  The month is March, and the day is the 3rd—a cold and cloudy Thursday.  The setting is the workhouse in Lambeth in Surrey, where one of the inmates has just died. Ordinarily the death of a workhouse pauper would pass without …

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Save My Darling: Love and Attempted Suicide on Clapham Common

The desperate cry of “Save my darling, save my darling!” echoed around Clapham Common at around eleven o’clock on the night of the 4th of May 1871.  Edward Hanniford, native of Devon and local fishmonger, rushed from his shop on the Polygon towards the cry.  Police Constable Reasy, who was on his beat, also hurried towards the commotion.  Both men …

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Charles Dickens’s Deputy, or, The Other Mystery of Edwin Drood

On an August Friday in 1888, with the temperature at 80o in the shade, two seemingly mismatched friends met up in London.  The older of the two, William Richard Hughes, was in his late fifties, while the younger, Frederic George Kitton, was in his early thirties.  Hughes was an important financial official, the Treasurer of the City of Birmingham.  Kitton …