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Grip, or, The Life, Death and Afterlife of Charles Dickens’s Raven

Aficionados of Charles Dickens will recall that a key character in Barnaby Rudge, which was published in 1841, is a talking raven by the name of Grip.  Perhaps it is stretching the definition of “overlooked Londoner” to celebrate a bird in this blog, but the story is so peculiar that it has slipped past editorial control. In his preface to …

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The Short and Sad and Troubled Life of Robert Watts

I am still investigating the identity of George Ruby, who, you will remember, was the young London crossing sweeper befriended by Charles Dickens.  But I am beginning to wonder if he was not George Ruby after all.  Is it possible that he was in fact George Roby? Even if George Roby was not the crossing sweeper of Marylebone, he was …

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By Jingo, or, The Great MacDermott

The story of a little boy named John Farrell who was badly beaten by his teacher, William Weale, was told in a previous post.  Weale’s future career proved easy to track: he became an authority on Flemish art, a published author, and Keeper of the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Finding out what happened to the …

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Making a Splash, or, John Sackhouse at Sadler’s Wells

If you read my recent post on John Sackhouse, you will remember that I referred to the mysterious incident that took place in the Royal Dockyard in Deptford.  What follows is the full story. First, though, a brief recapitulation.  Sackhouse was an Inuit who travelled to Scotland from his native Greenland on board a whaling vessel in 1816.  He made …

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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 …