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Strangers on a Train, or, A Curious Encounter on the North Kent Line

At the heart of this little story is a young woman who is an overlooked Londoner in the strictest sense.  She is in fact so overlooked that nothing is known about her beyond the details that follow.  All incidentals—her name, her age, her occupation—have been lost forever.  But she has not, thanks to a remarkable encounter on a train. The …

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John Sackhouse, or, An Inuit Comes to London

If you read our post on Valentine’s Day postmen, you will see a connection with this next item in the rather sad twist at the end! We start, though, on a chilly Saturday late in March 1818.  Although the temperature in London would not rise above 47oF, a large crowd had gathered in the Royal Dockyard in Deptford.  Moored to …

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Painting Peckham and Camberwell, or, The Art and Craft of Guy Miller

Readers of this blog with long memories will doubtless recall the story of the Peckham Ghost, which we posted last year.  The ghost caused quite a stir, and made a fool of Inspector Gedge and the local constabulary.  Gedge and his wife Rosina and a staggering thirty-eight constables occupied the house next to the police station in Peckham High Street. …

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The Rat-Catcher’s Daughters

Unlike many school leavers neither Nell or Kitty Jarvis of Camberwell in London had to worry about what to do next.  For they were destined to join their father in the noble art of rat-catching. This necessary occupation attracted the attention of the journalist Henry Mayhew, who wrote extensively about rat-catchers in London Labour and the London Poor.  He gave …

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Loddiges of Hackney, or, The Empress’s Tree Goes South

If you had been walking through the streets of what in 1854 was the village of Hackney on the 27th of July—a warm summer’s day—you would have witnessed a remarkable sight.  A team of twenty horses were making their way, very slowly indeed, down Mare Street, heading south.  They were harnessed to a massive carriage—effectively a sturdy platform on wheels of …

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Down Among the Paddington Dust Heaps, or, The Story of Henry Pearson

In volume 5 of Old and New London Edward Walford describes at length what was then the north-western suburb of Paddington.  Time had wrought dramatic changes.  When the Great Western Railway opened in 1840, the wide spaces of Paddington were still a patchwork of market and nursery gardens, and working men and working women lived in picturesque poverty in red-tiled …

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Facing the Music: Mr Rawlins and the Organ Grinding Nuisance

Noise nuisance, it would appear, is not a modern problem.  The soundscape of Victorian London was redolent with the clatter of horse-drawn vehicles, bustling railway stations, cries of costermongers, barking stray dogs and incessant street music—all of which, particularly the last, could drive Londoners, such as Mr Thomas James Rawlins, to distraction. In 1861 Henry Mayhew estimated that there were …

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Queen Victoria’s Hairdresser: Nestor Tirard and the Crowning Glory

Recently a curious advertisement in The Morning Post dated the 1st of March 1879 caught my eye: Her Majesty’s Drawing Rooms Lessons in the correct court headdress as Approved at the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, given daily by Nestor Tirard, Coiffeur Fleuriste by special appointments To her Majesty the Queen H.R.H. the Princess of Wales H.I. and R.H. the Duchess of …

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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 …