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A Riotous Affair, or, A Christmas Story from the Chelsea Workhouse 

The master of the workhouse in Chapter Two of Oliver Twist is one of the most unforgettable characters in nineteenth-century literature.  From the moment he is introduced to us, serving gruel from the copper in his cook’s uniform, he does not stand a chance.  He is fat and healthy, where the inmates he reigns over are starving and scrawny.  His …

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Shoes and Ships, or, The Story of Marcus Worley

If you have read any of my previous posts on the boys of the Shoeblack Society—Peter Carpenter and Robert Watts and George Roby—you will be aware of the inspirational role of Martin Ware in the lives of these young Londoners.  He was a barrister by profession, but he was a philanthropist by nature, and his concern for children whose fortunes he …

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The Poor Little Dear, or, The Sad Story of Sarah Gough 

On the morning of Saturday the 25th of May 1860 a small parcel sent from London arrived by train at Windsor railway terminus addressed to “The Mother Superior, House of Mercy, Clewer near Windsor”.  A Great Western Railway porter set off to the neighbouring area known as Clewer New Town, and on arriving in Hatch Lane he handed the box to the House of Mercy …

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Cornelius Ahern, or, The Not-So-Artful Dodger

On a chilly March evening in 1849 a young man aged nineteen was making his way along the Edgware Road in Marylebone.  He was small, and of medium build.  He had dark hair and an oval face with a fresh complexion.  His eyes were grey, and they were peering keenly through the dark.  His name was Cornelius Ahern, and he …

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A Case of Criminal Neglect, or, The Sad Death of John Sellers

One Sunday in the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria two men were making their way along one of the less salubrious streets near Smithfield.  Their identities are a complete mystery, which is a shame, as what they discovered there was remarkable, and what they did was little short of heroic.  Classics examples of overlooked Londoners they may …

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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 …