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Killed by a Corset? The Tragic Tale of Kitty Tyrrell, a Victorian Actress

The lives of most Victorian jobbing actresses are largely forgotten, their performances barely recorded apart from a few brief mentions in the theatrical papers.  And this would no doubt have been the fate of Kitty Tyrrell, if she had not had the misfortune to be killed by her corset. On Tuesday 26th December 1894 Kitty and her husband Harry Ewins …

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The Mystery of the Blue Grave: Henry Budden of Lambeth

Opened in 1892, Streatham Cemetery in Tooting is a pleasant spot, in spite of being on a noisy and busy road leading to Wandsworth.  Scan the horizon, and you will see that most of the older graves are of a uniform soft grey stone.  Then, near the west chapel, something incongruous meets the eye: a navy blue “something” that looks …

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John Willis of Seven Dials, or, The Stuff of London Legend

If you read our recent post on Grip, the raven much beloved of Charles Dickens, you will remember that it was removed from the writer’s home on its demise in March 1841 in a covered basket, and was returned stuffed, in a rather fine glass-fronted “rustic” case.  In other words, it had been taken to a taxidermist.  Sadly, we have …

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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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Making a Splash: 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, a brief recapitulation.  Sackhouse was an Inuit who travelled to Scotland from his native Greenland on board a whaling vessel in 1816.  He made a …

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The Not-So-Famous Ethel Cox: Fashioning an Education

On what is International Women’s Day I want 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 don’t know, but, as she spent her working life improving the education of thousands of largely working-class girls, I can only imagine she was …

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Reynolds’s Lost Children: The Strawberry Girl and Others

It is hard not to be captivated by Joshua Reynolds’s painting The Strawberry Girl, which hangs in the Wallace Collection at Hertford House in Manchester Square. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773, Horace Walpole jotted down in his copy of the catalogue the single word “charming”, and we can see what that eminent man of taste …