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The German Siffleur, or, The Life and Times of Herr von Joel

In September 1832 a group of London friends decided to spend a few days in Margate.  They were variously gentlemen and tradesmen, all living in the Manchester Square area of Marylebone.  On a cloudy but mild Monday morning they went down to the steam packet wharf just below London Bridge in Lower Thames Street in time to catch the William …

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A Matter of Honour, Your Honour

On the 22nd of June 1846—a Monday—a rather unpleasant incident occurred in Wimbledon.  The scene was a spot on the banks of the River Wandle, which cuts its way through the south western outreaches of London, until it flows out into the Thames in the northern reaches of Wandsworth.  At the time of our story the Wandle was heavily industrialised, …

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Distant Memories of Calcutta, or, The Strange Story of George Nyleve

On the 12th of July 1821 at the church of St Marylebone, just south of Regent’s Park, a George Evelyn married a Mary Jane Massy-Dawson. Evelyn was a remarkable man.  He had fought at Waterloo, receiving a severe wound during the defence of the Château d’Hougoumont, when a shot fired through a hole in an old gate hit his left …

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Honour Among Thieves, or, The Stanhope Street Affair

There is a good story about a gentleman who lived in Stanhope Street at the end of the eighteenth century.  The details first saw the light of day as an item in the Daily Advertiser in 1798.  After that it appeared in anthologies of one kind or another, a happy consequence of which was that it avoided settling permanently in …

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The Bluebeard of Peckham Rye

A gaunt wretched figure stood at the barred window of a ground-floor room attempting nervously to attract the attention of anyone passing by.  Laurel House was in an isolated position at the far end of Peckham Rye Common on the road leading down to Camberwell Old Cemetery, surrounded by market gardens and farmland and with few neighbouring houses.  Using a …

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The Sadness of Clowns, or, The Strange Death of Giuseppe Grimaldi

Joseph Grimaldi, the famous Regency actor, has achieved immortality as the great pantomime clown, the original “Joey” of circus tradition.  But what of his father Giuseppe?  A native of Genoa, and a dentist by profession, Giuseppe came to London in about 1760, where he was engaged by David Garrick at Drury Lane as a dancer and pantomime buffoon.  He has …

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Pleasures and Palaces, or, In Praise of Henry Rowley Bishop

A cherished item in my library of music is a collection of original recordings made by Adelina Patti, who was one of the truly great sopranos.  Even with the benefit of modern sound engineering there is more hiss and crackle than one would normally be prepared to put up with.  However, no amount of extraneous noise can disguise the sweet …

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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, …