Sunday 30 December 2007

Episodes in an Obscure Life


Rowe, Richard (1828–1879), was a Wesleyan minister, based for some time in the East End. You can already find his posthumously published Life in the London Streets (aka Picked up in the Streets) on the website but I've now added Episodes in an Obscure Life. The former is the better compilation, but the latter, despite being rather preachy, is an interesting read in places.

Saturday 15 December 2007

Google Me Up!


Google seems to refuse to follow through to index all chapters in Mysteries of London and Sweeney Todd ... it only indexes the first chapter. Possibly it thinks there's something suspicious going on, with all those files with similar names. So, forgive me, I'm going to try to speed the process up by putting some links here, and seeing if it helps ... here's Sweeney Todd ...

Chapter 1 - The Strange Customer at Sweeney

Chapter 2 - The Spectacle Maker's Daughter

Chapter 3 - The Dog and the Hat

Chapter 4 - The Pie-shop in Bell Yard

Chapter 5 - The Meeting in the Temple

Chapter 6 - The Conference, and the Fearful
Narration in the Garden

Chapter 7 - The Barber and the Lapidary

Chapter 8 - The Thieves' Home

Chapter 9 - Johanna at Home, and the

Chapter 10 - The Colonel and His Friend

Chapter 11 - The Stranger at Lovett's

Chapter 12 - The Resolution come to by Johanna

Chapter 13 - Johanna's Interview with Arabella
Wilmot, and the Advice

Chapter 14 - Tobias's Threat, and its

Chapter 15 - The Second Interview between
Johanna and the Colonel in the Temple Gardens

Chapter 16 - The Barber Makes Another Attempt
to Sell the String of Pearls

Chapter 17 - The Great Change in the Prospects
of Sweeney Todd

Chapter 18 - Tobias's Adventures During the
Absence of Sweeney Todd

Chapter 19 - The Strange Odour at St.
Dunstan's Church

Chapter 20 - Sweeney Todd's Proceedings
Consequent upon the Departure of Tobias

Chapter 21 - The Misadventure of Tobias. The

Chapter 22 - The Mad-House Cell

Chapter 23 - The New Cook to Mrs. Lovett's
Gets Tired of his Situation

Chapter 24 - The Night at the Mad-House

Chapter 25 - Mr. Fogg's Story at the Mad-House
to Sweeney Todd

Chapter 26 - Colonel Jeffery Makes Another
Effort to Come at Sweeney Todd's Secret

Chapter 27 - Tobias Makes an Attempt to Escape
from the Mad-House

Chapter 28 - The Mad-House Yard, and Tobias's
New Friend

Chapter 29 - The Consultation of Colonel
Jeffery with the Magistrate

Chapter 30 - Tobias's Escape from Mr. Fogg's

Chapter 31 - The Rapid Journey to London of

Chapter 32 - The Announcement in Sweeney
Todd's Window. Johanna Oakley's Adventure.

Chapter 33 - The Discoveries in the Vaults of
St. Dunstan's

Chapter 34 - Johanna Alone. The
Secret. Mr. Todd's Suspicions. The Mysterious Letter

Chapter 35 - Sweeney Todd Commences Clearing
the Road to Retirement

Chapter 36 - The Last Batch of the Delicious

Chapter 37 - The Prisoner's Plan of Escape
from the Pies

Chapter 38 - Sweeney Todd Shaves a Good
Customer. The Arrest

Chapter 39 - The Conclusion.

and here's Mysteries of London

Title Page


Chapter I - The House in Smithfield

Chapter II - The Mysteries of the Old House

Chapter III - The Trap-Door

Chapter IV - The Two Trees

Chapter V - Eligible Acquaintances

Chapter VI - Mrs. Arlington

Chapter VII - The Boudoir

Chapter VIII - The Conversation

Chapter IX - A City Man. Smithfield Scenes.

Chapter X - The Frail One's Narrative

Chapter XI - "The Servants' Arms"

Chapter XII - Bank Notes

Chapter XIII - The Hell

Chapter XIV - The Station-House

Chapter XV - The Police-Office

Chapter XVI - The Beginning of Misfortunes

Chapter XVII - A Den of Horrors

Chapter XVIII - The Boozing-Ken

Chapter XIX - Morning

Chapter XX - The Villa

Chapter XXI - Atrocity

Chapter XXII - A Woman's Mind

Chapter XXIII - The Old House in Smithfield Again

Chapter XXIV - Circumstantial Evidence

Chapter XXV - The Enchantress

Chapter XXVI - Newgate

Chapter XXVII - The Republican and the Resurrection Man

Chapter XXVIII - The Dungeon

Chapter XXIX - The Black Chamber

Chapter XXX - The 26th of November

Chapter XXXI - Explanations

Chapter XXXII - The Old Bailey

Chapter XXXIII - Another Day at the Old Bailey

Chapter XXXIV - The Lesson Interrupted

Chapter XXXV - Whitecross-street Prison

Chapter XXXVI - The Execution

Chapter XXXVII - The Lapse of Two Years

Chapter XXXVIII - The Visit

Chapter XXXIX - The Dream

Chapter XL - The Speculation. - An Unwelcome Meeting

Chapter XLI - Mr. Greenwood

Chapter XLII - The Dark House

Chapter XLIII - The Mummy

Chapter XLIV - The Body-Snatchers

Chapter XLV - The Fruitless Search

Chapter XLVI - Richard and Isabella

Chapter XLVII - Eliza Sydney

Chapter XLVIII - Mr. Greenwood's Visitors

Chapter XLIX - The Document

Chapter L - The Drugged Wine-Glass

Chapter LI - Diana and Eliza

Chapter LII - The Bed of Sickness

Chapter LIII - Accusations and Explanations

Chapter LIV - The Banker

Chapter LV - Miserimma!!!

Chapter LVI - The Road to Ruin

Chapter LVII - The Last Resource

Chapter LVIII - New Year's Day

Chapter LIX - The Royal Lovers

Chapter LX - Revelations

Chapter LXI - The "Boozing Ken" Once More

Chapter LXII - The Resurrection Man's History

Chapter LXIII - The Plot

Chapter LXIV - The Counterplot

Chapter LXV - The Wrongs and Crimes of the Poor

Chapter LXVI - The Result of Markham's Enterprise

Chapter LXVII - Scenes in Fashionable Life

Chapter LXVIII - The Election

Chapter LXIX - The "Whippers-In."

Chapter LXX - The Image, The Picture, and The Statue

Chapter LXXI - The House of Commons

Chapter LXXII - The Black Chamber Again

Chapter LXXIII - Captain Dapper and Sir Cherry Bounce

Chapter LXXIV - The Meeting

Chapter LXXV - The Crisis

Chapter LXXVI - Count Alteroni's Fifteen Thousand Pounds

Chapter LXXVII - A Woman's Secret

Chapter LXXVIII - Marian

Chapter LXXIX - The Bill. - A Father.

Chapter LXXX - The Revelation

Chapter LXXXI - The Mysterious Instructions

Chapter LXXXII - The Medical Man

Chapter LXXXIII - The Black Chamber Again

Chapter LXXXIV - The Second Examination - Count Alteroni.

Chapter LXXXV - A Friend in Need

Chapter LXXXVI - The Old Hag

Chapter LXXXVII - The Professor of Mesmerism

Chapter LXXXVIII - The Figurante

Chapter LXXXIX - The Mysterious Letter

Chapter XC - Markham's Occupations

Chapter XCI - The Tragedy

Chapter XCII - The Italian Valet

Chapter XCIII - News from Castelcicala

Chapter XCIV - The Home Office

Chapter XCV - The Forger and the Adulteress

Chapter XCVI - The Member of Parliament's Levee

Chapter XCVII - Another New Year's Day

Chapter XCVIII - Dark Plots and Schemes

Chapter XCIX - The Buffer's History

Chapter C - The Mysteries of the Ground-Floor Rooms

Chapter CI - The Widow

Chapter CII - The Reverend Visitor

Chapter CIII - Hopes and Fears

Chapter CIV - Female Courage

Chapter CV - The Combat

Chapter CVI - The Grave-Digger

Chapter CVII - A Discovery

Chapter CVIII - The Exhumation

Chapter CIX - The Stock-Broker

Chapter CX - The Effects of a Trance

Chapter CXI - A Scene at Mr. Chichester's House

Chapter CXII - Viola

Chapter CXIII - The Lovers

Chapter CXIV - The Contents of the Packet

Chapter CXV - The Treasure. - A New Idea

Chapter CXVI - The Rattlesnake's History

Chapter CXVII - The Rattlesnake

Chapter CXVIII - The Two Maidens

Chapter CXIX - Poor Ellen!

Chapter CXX - The Father and Daughter

Chapter CXXI - His Child!

Chapter CXXII - A Change of Fortune

Chapter CXXIII - Aristocratic Morals

Chapter CXXIV - The Intrigues of a Demirep

Chapter CXXV - The Reconciliation

Chapter CXXVI - The Rector of Saint David's

Chapter CXXVII - Blandishments

Chapter CXXVIII - Temptation

Chapter CXXIX - The Fall

Friday 7 December 2007

Sweeney Todd

Johnny Depp Sweeney ToddSWEENEY TODD

I've recently seen a preview of Tim Burton's new version of Sweeney Todd, the Sondheim musical. Great performances all round ... not as over-the-top as I feared.

Anyway, the reason for an invitation to the preview (apart all my showbiz connections, of course - as if!) is that I'm writing a piece on the historicity of Todd (once assumed to have been based on a real event, now widely believed to be entirely fictional).

The story has had many manifestations, but it seems without doubt that the first version is the 1846/47 penny dreadful entitled 'The String of Pearls', in which the murderous barber is the chief villian.

In the spirit of web generosity on which is run, I've uploaded the entire penny dreadful here ... enjoy!

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Official Records


Many records kept by Victorian charities have long since been lost, but some interesting collections are in the public domain.

Prisoners in Aylesbury Gaol (ok, not quite London, I grant you)

Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital

Waifs and Strays Society (now Children's Society)

There are bound to be many others, I suspect ... if anyone has any tips, let me know!

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Penny Dreadfuls


John Adcock's blog shines a wondrous light onto the Victorian penny dreadful, amongst other things, although the pages he puts up simply leave one wanting to read more! The man is clearly an expert on his subject, and it's great to see people publishing stuff on the web simply for the love of their field. And any illustration entitled "The Feast of Death" is worth your time, no?

Friday 12 October 2007



You probably know this already, but Millais is at the Tate. A whole exhibition, mind you, devoted to the Pre-Raphaelite who gave us the likes of 'Ophelia' and 'Bubbles'. Also includes, a little oddly, events such as a 'Victorian Evening' of popular music (one suspects not music hall sing-a-longs) in Smith Square.

Thursday 27 September 2007


Arsenic on demand ARSENIC

Research on Victorian crime brings me to poisoning, a topic I know little about. An excellent academic article, however, is available for free, courtesy of the Wellcome Trust, on the Arsenic Act of 1851, which unfortunately did little to stop a string of Victorian arsenic-ists throughout the century ... click here for a famous example.

Illustrated London News


It's been a while since the blog was updated, but real life unfortunately takes priority. However, I have been going through the archives of the Illustrated London News online, and adding occasional links to my website. I've already mentioned the Albert Palace (see below) and now I've found a picture of the so-called floating swimming baths that was moored by Charing Cross in the 1870s. I've come across brief references to it before, but fascinating to see it and get a more detailed explanation of what it was!

Monday 23 July 2007


Thames, 1878ARCHIVES

The discovery of a new picture archive online (or new to me, at least) called Viewfinder, architecturally-orientated, courtesy of English Heritage ... "The Picture Gallery contains illustrations of the industrial age, social history, architecture and archaeology, dating from the 1840s to the present day. The Stories set the photographs in a wider context." See my Links page for other libraries.

Saturday 14 July 2007

Albert Palace


Another great forgotten building of London. Located on the south-east side of Battersea Park, it was a relatively short-lived exhibition building, on the lines of the Alexandra Palace, "A handsome glass structure comprising large halls for concerts and general entertainments.". It gets a brief mention here. This site implies the building was re-assembled from the 1872 Dublin Exhibition (as the Alexandra was from the 1862 Exhibition). It now has its own page on the site, with links to the ILN Picture Library.

Wednesday 11 July 2007

London Hospitals


Occasionally a random search retrieves an invaluable site which I wish I'd had access to in the past. The site in question is a detailed, free, online book discoursing on London's hospital system, courtesy of one Geoffrey Rivett - excellent!

Wednesday 4 July 2007

Cartes de Visite


A reader asks us to mention, a collection of cartes and postcards, set up with the express intention of uniting the former deceased Victorians with their descendants. If, like me, you find old photographs endlessly fascinating, it's worth a browse.

Victorian Illustration


Patrick Leary on the VICTORIA list alerts readers to The Database of Mid-Victorian wood-engraved Illustration. It's a great piece of digital preservation - almost 900 images from c.1862 culled from popular journals, including Cornhill Magazine, Good Words, Illustrated London News, Leisure Hour, London Society, Once a Week, many by famous artists ... try it out for yourself.

Saturday 23 June 2007



One of the peculiarities of writing historical fiction is getting into your characters' underwear. One doesn't generally need to go there too often, of course, but one likes to be accurate. I recently came across this piece in the Times "1857 anniversary supplement" which features modern journalists trying on Victorian garb. I particularly like the line "A strange and indecent airiness swirls about my bloomered lower half", although I suspect, from the description of crotchless leg-covering undergarments, the items in question are "drawers", whereas 1850s "bloomers" were Mrs. Bloomer's "rational dress" - ie. a form of female trouser. Further mooching round the web led me to this site, The Ladies Treasury, which I think is the most practical guide I've come across. For the Victorian opinion of ladies in Mrs. Bloomer's trousers (as opposed to drawers, which also had their critics, if I recall correctly), see here ... not a good idea, apparently ...

Tuesday 22 May 2007

London Walks


I must confess that I'm not that fond of organised walks, preferring to ramble through London at random. Nonetheless, I was impressed recently by the breadth of walks listed on the London Footprints site. I'd also like to mention the peculiar London Adventure who provide a fascinating and recherché list of subjects! The latter, however, is almost more of a club, which (yes, you guessed it, dear reader) I have never attended ... email Mr. Granger-Taylor if you would like to participate. ... ... the site seems a little out of date ... their 2007 programme is mentioned here

Crystal Palace, Revisited


Although I like to explore Victorian London's more obscure quarters on this blog, I've just recalled Dr. Russell Potter's excellent page of tit-bits on the Crystal Palace, which are well-worth a visit. What caught my eye most was a picture of the "Talking Telegraph" whose description I'd come across in the Illustrated London News, of which Dr. Potter provides a picture (where is it now, I wonder? I must make discreet inquiries!). Talking of which, readers may wish to note that the Illustrated London News library is online - not every picture, as yet, but still a good deal of interesting Victoriana.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

Plaques and Places


Another site for the topography list, London Remembers, as spotted by ... a guide to obscure London plaques, dedications, memorials etc., going way beyond the call of duty with interactive map and lots of historical detail, including obscure Victoriana. A random browse finds, for instance, the plaque marking the location of the Queen's Theatre. My only criticism is that it seems a little slow ... but worth the wait!

Thursday 3 May 2007

Episodes in an Obscure Life


Digitisation is a bit on the back-burner at the Victorian Dictionary at the moment; however, that said, you can find the start of Richard Rowe's "Episodes in an Obscure Life" ... a Mayhew-esque study of the poor East End by a local clergyman (I think a fictionalised version of his own life, but I may be wrong) ... the first chapters are here ... (1-2) (3) (4).

Mesmerising, Again


Astute readers may have noticed a recent upsurge in my interest in mesmerists. This is because the second Sarah Tanner novel will feature mesmerism (envisaged, I hasten to add, before I came across this - d'oh! but never mind, we press on regardless ... any other forthcoming novels featuring mesmerists, I don't want to hear about it) and it's a fascinating subject to research. One great source is Jane Welsh Carlyle's brush with a mesmerist. I was impressed to find her letters online (must read all of them when I have the chance) ... here's the one in question:-

To John Welsh, Esq., Liverpool.

Chelsea : Dec. 13, 1847.

My dearest Uncle, - I write to you de profundis, that is to say, from the depths of my tub-chair, into which I have migrated within the last two hours, out of the still lower depths of my gigantic red bed, which has held me all this week, a victim to the 'inclemency of the season'! Oh, uncle of my affections, such a season! Did you ever feel the like of it? Already solid ice in one's water jug! 'poor Gardiners all froz out,' and Captain Sterling going at large in a dress of skins, the same that he wore in Canada! I tried to make head against it by force of volition - kept off the fire as if I had been still at 'Miss Hall's,' where it was a fine of sixpence to touch the hearthrug, and walked, walked, on Carlyle's pernicious counsel (always for me, at least) to 'take the bull by the horns,' instead of following Darwin's more sensible maxim, 'in matters of health always consult your sensations.' And so, 'by working late and early, I'm come to what ye see'! in a tub-chair - a little live bundle of flannel shawls and dressing-gowns, with little or no strength to speak of, having coughed myself all to fiddle-strings in the course of the week, and 'in a dibble of a temper,' if I had only anybody to vent it on! Nevertheless, I am sure 'I have now got the turn,' for I feel what Carlyle would call 'a wholesome desire to smoke'! which cannot be gratified, as C. is dining with Darwin; but the tendency indicates a return to my normal state of health.

The next best thing I can think of is to write to thee; beside one's bedroom fire, in a tub-chair, the family affections bloom up so strong in one! Moreover, I have just been reading for the first time Harriet Martineau's outpourings in the 'Athenæum, and 'that minds me,' as my Helen says, that you wished to know if I too had gone into this devilish thing. Catch me! What I think about it were not easy to say, but one thing I am very sure of, that the less one has to do with it the better; and that it is all of one family with witchcraft, demoniacal possession - is, in fact, the selfsame principle presenting itself under new scientific forms, and under a polite name. To deny that there is such a thing as animal magnetism, and that it actually does produce many of the phenomena here recorded, is idle; nor do I find much of this, which seems wonderful because we think of it for the first time, a whit more wonderful than those common instances of it, which never struck us with surprise merely because we have been used to see them all our lives. Everybody, for instance, has seen children thrown almost into convulsions by someone going through the motions of tickling them! Nay, one has known a sensitive uncle shrink his head between his shoulders at the first pointing of a finger towards his neck!

Does not a man physically tremble under the mere look of a wild beast or fellow-man that is stronger than himself? Does not a woman redden all over when she feels her lover's eyes on her? How then should one doubt the mysterious power of one individual over another? Or what is there more surprising in being made rigid than in being made red? in falling into sleep, than in falling into convulsions? in following somebody across a room, than in trembling before him from head to foot? I perfectly believe, then, in the power of magnetism to throw people into all sorts of unnatural states of body; could have believed so far without the evidence of my senses, and have the evidence of my senses for it also.

I saw Miss Bölte magnetised one evening at Mrs. Buller's by a distinguished magnetiser, who could not sound his h's, and who maintained, nevertheless, that mesmerism 'consisted in moral and intellectual superiority.' In a quarter of an hour, by gazing with his dark animal eyes into hers, and simply holding one of her hands, while his other rested on her head, he had made her into the image of death; no marble was ever colder, paler, or more motionless, and her face had that peculiarly beautiful expression which Miss Martineau speaks of, never seen but in a dead face, or a mesmerised one. Then he played cantrups with her arm and leg, and left them stretched out for an hour in an attitude which no awake person could have preserved for three minutes. I touched them, and they felt horrid - stiff as iron, I could not bend them down with all my force. They pricked her hand with the point of a penknife, she felt nothing. And now comes the strangest part of my story. The man, who regarded Carlyle and me as Philistines, said, 'Now are you convinced?' 'Yes, said Carlyle, there is no possibility of doubting but that you have stiffened all poor little Miss Bölte there into something very awful.' Yes, said I pertly, but then she wished to be magnetised; what I doubt is, whether anyone could be reduced to that state without the consent of their own volition. I should like for instance to see anyone magnetise me!' 'You think I could not?' said the man with a look of ineffable disdain. 'Yes,' said I,' I defy you?' 'Will you give me your hand, Miss?' 'Oh, by all means;' and I gave him my hand with the most perfect confidence in my force of volition, and a smile of contempt. He held it in one of his, and with the other made what Harriet Martineau calls some 'passes' over it, as if he were darting something from his finger ends. I looked him defiantly in the face, as much as to say, 'You must learn to sound your h's, sir, before you can produce any effect on a woman like me!' And whilst this or some similar thought was passing through my head - flash there went over me, from head to foot, something precisely like what I once experienced from taking hold of a galvanic ball, only not nearly so violent. I had presence of mind to keep looking him in the face, as if I had felt nothing; and presently he flung away my hand with a provoked look, saying, 'I believe you would be a very difficult subject, but nevertheless, if I had time given me, I am sure I could mesmerise you; at least, I never failed with anyone as yet.'

Now, if this destroyed for me my theory of the need of a consenting will, it as signally destroyed his of moral and intellectual superiority; for that man was superior to me in nothing but animal strength, as I am a living woman! I could even hinder him from perceiving that he had mesmerised me, by my moral and intellectual superiority! Of the clairvoyance I have witnessed nothing; but one knows that people with a diseased or violently excited state of nerves can see more than their neighbours. When my insane friend was in this house he said many things on the strength of his insanity which in a mesmerised person would have been quoted as miracles of clairvoyance.

Of course a vast deal of what one hears is humbug. This girl of Harriet's seems half diseased, half make-believing. I think it a horrible blasphemy they are there perpetrating, in exploiting that poor girl for their idle purposes of curiosity! In fact, I quite agree with the girl, that, had this Mrs. Winyard lived in an earlier age of the world, she would have been burned for a witch, and deserved it better than many that were; since her poking into these mysteries of nature is not the result of superstitious ignorance, but of educated self-conceit.

In fact, with all this amount of belief in the results of animal magnetism, I regard it as a damnable sort of tempting of Providence, which I, as one solitary individual, will henceforth stand entirely aloof from.

And now, having given you my views at great length, I will return to my bed and compose my mind. Love to all; thanks to Helen. With tremendous kisses,

Your devoted niece,


That wretched little Babbie does not write because I owe her a letter. A letter from her would have been some comfort in these dreary days of sickness; but since she has not bestowed it, I owe her the less thanks.

Tuesday 17 April 2007

Bookshops of Note


Just back from signing a few copies of A Most Dangerous Woman, second signing of the week, and it occurs to me that I should really give a big vote of thanks to two Goldsboro Booksbookshops who've supported my work over the last few years. First is Heffers in Cambridge, whose Richard Reynolds organises the annual "Bodies in the Bookshop" get-together and sundry other "criminal" events, and the second is the signed first-edition specialists Goldsboro Books, run by Dave and Daniel, situated in the bookselling alley that is Cecil Court (which coincidentally, honestly, is the location for a seedy book-selling racket in the my first novel, London Dust ... !). Both shops are marvellous and visitors in Cambridge and London respectively should seek them out.

Friday 6 April 2007

a most dangerous woman
A Most Dangerous Woman

Publication week for my fifth novel ... The book is called "A Most Dangerous Woman", and introduces Sarah Tanner, a "lady detective" (of sorts) who will appear in an ongoing series, set in 1850s London. For more about the book, see here.

The Physiology of London


A selection of quotes from John Fisher Murray's The Physiology of London in Bentley's Miscellany, 1844, have been added to the web site. Includes comments on angling ("On a fine, warm day in September, we have counted in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, no less than two hundred and eighty-four anglers, large, small, and intermediate, including gentlemen, chimney-sweepers, military officers, blackguard boys, in short, every gradation of the indefinitely graduated scale of metropolitan social life, was here represented"), child poverty ("I have seen little children, fat enough for the spit, wrapped in woolpacks of fleecy hosiery, seated in their little carriages, drawn by goats, careering over the sward of Hyde Park; and at the same moment, crawling from the hollow trunks of old trees, where they had found refuge for the night, other children, their nakedness hardly concealed by a few greasy rags flapping against the mottled limbs of the creatures, heirs of shame and sorrow, and heritors of misery and its necessary crime." --- goats? was this a commonplace sight!?), a visceral description of the jobbing knacker ("The pole-axe is driven at one blow through the frontal bone of the expiring animal ;a willow wand, finger thick, is pushed into the hole, and twisted about in the brain pan with great dexterity ; the animal is fearfully convulsed, writhing in the most intense agony - the mob is quite in raptures at every kick of one brute and twist of the other - fainter and fainter become the death struggles of Dobbin - another turn or two, as a finisher - he is dead.") and various others (see Bibliography under "Bentley's Miscellany" in Journals).

Tuesday 3 April 2007

More Cartes de Visites

carte de visiteMORE CARTES DE VISITES ...

Further to my earlier post, Ken Page has generously donated a few more excellent cartes de visite to the site ... enjoy!

Tuesday 27 March 2007

The Ins and Outs of London


More from W.O'Daniel's tourist chronicle of an American in London ... find out about river-steamers ("The English river Steamboats, like London, its houses, streets and everything in or pertaining to London, are dirty coal-smoked crafts. "), a nice perspective on the Thames Tunnel ("Considerable value is attached to anything bought in the Thames Tunnel, and almost every article sold there, even the cakes and confectionary, has some picture or sentence concerning the work"), English hotels ("The American definition of a hotel is a building covering several acres of ground, in height, any number of stories above six. The interior of which is arranged and conducted with every consideration for the comfort and convenience of guests . . . The English definition is as contrary to this as it is possible to imagine"), and the funeral customs of the day ("Of all cold, formal, uncharitable, and un-christian-like sights to be seen in London, a funeral is certainly the greatest ...")

Thursday 22 March 2007

Mayhew's Street Characters


A fun page for the website, pending a full digitisation of Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (a long-cherished plan, but not likely to appear in the imminent future) ... a large selection of the street characters from said masterpiece, on one page for your delectation ... click here

Sunday 18 March 2007

London Pavements


Books by foreign visitors often are the best reports of London life, as they tend to remark on things native Londoners would have taken for granted. Take this from W. O'Daniel, an American unimpressed by 1850s London streets (whose book I recently acquired ... more excerpts may follow):- "Judge then my disappointment on entering London to see no signs of that opulence so much talked of abroad; wherever I turn I am presented with a gloomy solemnity in the houses, streets and the inhabitants; none of that beautiful gilding which makes a principal ornament in Chinese architecture. The streets of Nankin are sometimes strewed with goldleaf: very different are those of London; in the midst of their pavements a great lazy puddle moves muddily along; heavy laden machines with wheels of unwieldy thickness crowd up every passage; so that a stranger instead of finding time for observation is often happy if he has time to escape from being crushed to pieces. The side-walks are exceedingly low and very narrow. Oxford, Regent, Cannon and a few other streets are the only exceptions. I have frequently seen brewers' teams and others come within one foot of the store windows, and have been obliged to jump into a store door to escape being struck. To walk two or three abreast in the city is perfectly impossible. In very few streets is there any protection to the curb and consequently the hubs of the wheels, especially when passing other teams, extends several inches over the side-walk. "

Friday 16 March 2007



The 1840s revival of interest in mesmerism led to all sorts of experiments, not least operations (including amputation) which relied on hypnosis as anaesthetic. Famously, Dickens was an amateur mesmerist, but the fad for mesmerism extended throughout society. I find this in The Times (one of several such cases mentioned) 22 Dec. 1843 ... "On Tuesday evening, at the Royal Oak, Abbey-street, Bethnal-green-road, the conversation turned upon the subject of "mesmerism," when a gentleman present (Mr. Elisha Harey of No.7, Ramsay-street, who has attended several lectures on the science) offered, for a trifling wager, to send any person into a "mesmeric sleep;" upon which the potboy, a fine active, intelligent youth, about 18 years of age, expressed a wish to be "mesmerised," and his wish was complied with. After a few minutes, the lad's arms and legs began to stiffen, the muscles of the throat appeared to swell, and he gave utterance to a low moaning expressive of great pain. At this time, Mr. De Llenen, the landlord of the house, entered the room and endeavoured to arouse him, but without success. After a lapse of about an hour, the party became alarmed, and a medical gentleman (Mr. Vandenberg) was sent for; but, nothwithstanding every attention has been paid to him, up to the present time he had remained in the same state. Several other medical gentlemen have since seen the lad, but none seem to be aware what course to pursue with respect to him." What became of him, I wonder?

Tuesday 13 March 2007

A Crystal Palace Postcard

The Crystal Palace

A postcard view from an album produced for the Oxford Street department store Peter Robinson, as a souvenir gift, somewhere around the turn of the century.

Thursday 8 March 2007

Mayhew on Carpenters / Joiners


Further to the post below, another Mayhew letter (no.60), this time on carpenters and joiners.
"The carpenters and joiners that work for the low speculating builders are, generally speaking, quite a different class of men to those who are in "society." As a rule, to which, of course, there are many exceptions, they are men of dissipated habits. What little they get I am assured is spent in beer or gin, and they have seldom a second suit to their backs. They are generally to be seen on a Sunday lounging about the suburbs of London with their working clothes on, and their rules sticking from their side pockets - the only difference in their attire being, perhaps, that they have a clean shirt and a clean pair of shoes."
Read it in full here.

Tuesday 27 February 2007


scavengers DUST-HEAPS

The Victorian dust-heap has long been of interest to scholars through it's literary place in Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend. We are now very keen in recycling as a society, of course, and the Victorian system of rubbish-sifting seems very "green" to modern readers, albeit tainted by the poverty-stricken lives of the scavengers involved. These days, of course, we outsource some of our scavenge-able waste to third-world countries, where they can do our scavenging/recycling for us, in conditions not dissimilar to those described herein, in an 1850s piece from Household Words, to which I've added other links on the subject.

Thursday 22 February 2007

Google Books


Google made a big announcement a while back about digitising every book on the planet, or thereabouts. People fretted about copyright, about Google monopolising the world's knowledge (as if it doesn't already - ask any journalist researching a story) but Google pressed on anyway, pointing out that it could pretty much do what it likes with out of copyright material, which is true ... works on the same principle, albeit on a smaller scale! The 'beta' version is available online ... click "Full view books" if you want to limit your search to full text items. It's basically a massive hodge-podge of material, but includes some very obscure Victorian novels etc. which, frankly, would never otherwise appear online. Ironically, at the moment at least, some great Victorian material, utterly out of copyright, is searchable on the database, but not viewable in full text ... perhaps they'll fix that ... fingers crossed!

Saturday 17 February 2007

Ramo Samee


One of the peculiar names that I've come across from time to time in researching Victorian pleasure gardens is Ramo Samee. Until today, however, I never bothered to check who he was ... the first Georgian/Victorian superstar Indian juggler! For more about Mr. Samee see this excellent blog entry.

Sunday 11 February 2007

Mayhew on Sawyers


One of the ongoing efforts on the site is adding Mayhew's Letters to the Morning Chronicle - which were, in effect, the first draft of London Labour and the London Poor, his ground-breaking study of the working classes. Heavy on statistics and numbers, as well as amazing interviews with ordinary working people, Mayhew is hard to transcribe - which perhaps explains why only one cumbersome etext exists online for London Labour, at the Bolles Collection. Nonetheless, I am doing my bit with the Letters (essays, in actual fact) - here's number 59 ... detailing, in large part, how the occupation of sawyer was made redundant by the introduction of the steam-powered saw-mill.

Saturday 10 February 2007


French novels


Finally, word arrives of my novels making their appearance in France, in April, courtesy of Editions 10/18 "Grands Detectives" series ... A Metropolitan Murder becomes Le Cadavre du Métropolitain and The Welfare of the Dead becomes Les bienfaits de la mort! There's something about the French language that makes everything sound classy ... even the publicity flyer "Pour Lee Jackson, Big Ben sonne toujours a l'heure Victorienne" ... merveilleux!

Friday 9 February 2007

Newsletter Disaster


Following a catastrophic computer failure here at, I'm afraid newsletter subscription details since the 10th September 2006 have been lost! Fortunately the site is wholly unaffected. If you have subscribed, unsubscribed or changed address from the email newsletter, in the last six months, then please contact me again ... sorry folks!

Wednesday 7 February 2007

The Last Pleasure Garden


Readers of my books (there are a couple out there, I believe) should be aware that the paperback of The Last Pleasure Garden is now available. Another murder mystery, but this time set against the strange background of Cremorne Gardens in Chelsea. Pleasure-gardens were common in the London suburbs until the mid-Victorian period, when they gained a rather risqué reputation for their nocturnal activities - not least al fresco dancing - which were said to encourage prostitution and vice. (This is probably true, but not much more than the average theatre or music hall.) The decline of Cremorne involved religious protestors, antagonistic licensing authorities, nimby neighbours, and several libel actions. In my book, of course, there are a couple of murders as well ...

Friday 2 February 2007

In the Year of Jubilee
In the Year of Jubilee

I've never been a big fan of George Gissing, I think because I started reading 'The Netherworld' at one point, and couldn't really get into it. However, I am changing my mind. Can I commend to the reader 'In the Year of Jubilee' ... it's set in 1887 and years following, and is a study of the rising lower middle class of the period, covering various bugbears of the time, including advertising, suburbia, and the education of women. And yet, despite being an almost polemical novel about the up-and-coming vulgar 'educated' classes of Camberwell, it's a fascinating and entertaining read. On the polemical side, see here, for instance, for a rather jaundiced view of women's education ... but it's a good read, you have my word!

Thursday 1 February 2007



Film of the Victorian / Edwardian era is hard to come by, for understandable reasons! It's worth having a look at the Mitchell and Kenyon material that was uncovered recently. Another source, which I was just reminded of, is the Pathe News site ... if you're willing to register and download (a somewhat convoluted process), you can get lo-res versions of any film in the Pathe Archive, gratis (or pay £25 for better resolution). Look for the film on the Emancipation of Women ... even without the images, it's fascinating to hear first-hand accounts of the suffragettes et al.

Tuesday 30 January 2007

Maps in Print

Reynolds Map, 1895 MAPS IN PRINT

A reader inquires whether I can supply a print copy of the 1895 Reynolds Map of London. The short answer is no; but anyone on the look-out for print maps of Victorian London should try
1. ... search under "London" and "Map" or "atlas" in the title and limit years ... this will find lots of Victorian London street maps (often rather expensive, as some are collectors items)
2. sell print reproductions of sections of the incredible 1862 Stanford map.
3. The LSE Archive sell print reproductions of sections of the 1898-9 Booth Poverty Maps.
4. An extensive 1888 Bacon map has been reprinted in book form.
5. also sell a reprint of an 1840s map, and Baedecker guides from the end of the century.
I'd be interested to know of other reprints, if anyone has come across them.



Looking into the Holborn Casino again, I stumble across another instance of men appearing as women in Victorian night-spots (see here) ... the defence when prosecuted was invariably that it was done "for a wager" or "for a lark". Women dressing as men seems to have been a little rarer, but not unheard of. The general response in court seems to have been as much wry amusement and simple confusion, as anything else. For fictional treatment, of course, see Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet.

Monday 29 January 2007

Keats House


London is blessed with a unique range of small museums, and so I may highlight the odd one on this blog from time to time. The first is Keats House. It's Georgian, rather than Victorian, but as I've visited there recently, making use of its wall-paper and chaise-longue for a photo-shoot, I feel obliged to sing its praises. It does give a feel for the sort of leafy middle-class suburbia that existed around London before the Victorian developments of the mid-(19th)century. Well worth a visit.

Saturday 27 January 2007

Holborn Haunts

Holborn map

A reader inquires about the location of the Holborn Casino, an infamous dance-hall/night-club of the 1860s/1870s which features in my third novel, The Welfare of the Dead. It was replaced by the Holborn Restaurant and was located in the area opposite today's Holborn tube station. The map attached shows Holborn in 1899 ... Kingsway was not yet built, with slums still around Great Wild Street and Clare Market in the south. Also a lost theatre, the Jodrell; two lost music halls, the Royal and the seemingly tiny Middlesex. Plus, if you look closely, an intimation of the British Museum Station on the new central line, which would appear in mid 1900. For the rest of the Pocket Map of London (very good on theatres) see my site.

Wednesday 24 January 2007

John Snow


I keep meaning to note this recently published title - 'The Ghost Map' - although it's hardly the first one on John Snow and cholera. Still, it seems to be doing well. For a good site on all things Snow, see this long-standing website on the subject, which includes broader material on Victorian London.

Tuesday 23 January 2007

Christmas, Belated


It's comforting to know, as we recover in January, that the Victorian Christmas was as excessive as our own - from turn-of-the-century complaints about Christmas starting early ("The note of preparation for the great festival of the Christian Church, which was sounded early in November when the windows of the stationers, the booksellers' shops, and the railway stalls became suddenly gay with the coloured plates of Christmas numbers ") to the vast consumption of food and drink. I mention it now, because I just came across the attached in Cruikshank (1841 Comic Almanack) - as always, one is left with the impression that nothing changes.

Sunday 21 January 2007

Dumb Edwardians?

Diary of a Nobody - The LaurelsDUMB EDWARDIANS?

Do I object to 'dumbing-down' in arts broadcasting? I don't know ... broadcasters' interest in all things Victorian has now trickled down to the Edwardian era in BBC4's forthcoming season of very loosely connected programmes. The good news is a new adaptation of The Diary of a Nobody (yes, people have already pointed out its not Edwardian). The bad news includes titles such as Edwardian SuperSize Me. Hopefully better than it sounds.

Saturday 20 January 2007

London Architecture Lectures


Victorian enthusiasts may be interested in this lecture series which provides an introduction to various architects who most influenced the modern capital. In particular, Charles Barry and George Gilbert Scott are included. I may well attend the latter - I'm a great admirer of his work, as I live in sight of one of Scott's great achievements, trifling in comparison to St. Pancras, but stunningly beautiful.

Friday 19 January 2007

Cruikshank's Comic Almanack


Cruikshank's Comic Almanack includes, amongst a lot of Victorian humorous prose (which doesn't generally seem very funny today) a cartoon for each month of the year, which I do tend to find fascinating ... not so much for their humour as the marvellous detail. My favourite for humour is, however, November 1838's 'Guys in Council', presaging Larson's "Far Side" et al. To browse all the months from 1835-1838, see the page I've created, as promised below.

Thursday 18 January 2007

Picture Libraries

Maskelyne and CookePICTURE LIBRARIES

There are some great commercial picture libraries on the web, which the casual browser can enjoy, even if they don't want to buy the pictures. I've listed some on my Links page but a new one (for my list, at least) is the British Library Picture Library. To take a very random example, a search for 'Maskelyne' (the famous magician of 'Maskelyne and Cooke' fame) found four striking advertisements for his shows (see example, right). I hope no-one at the BL minds me linking to the small-scale image for demonstration purposes (if so, let me know!) ... all such digitised material is, of course, copyright of the library.

Wednesday 17 January 2007


Parish Boundaries 1877MAPS

A site after my own heart is MAPCO and, of course, the London section. I've just noticed that there's three new Victorian maps on there, since I last looked, and have added them to my own list. These include a beautifully detailed map of all parish boundaries in 1877 - great stuff!

Tuesday 16 January 2007

Audio Versions

Audio Versions

The Last Pleasure GardenJust a quick note to say that the audio cassette version of The Last Pleasure Garden is now available. You can order the cassettes or listen to a snippet online. I'm told that digital audio/mp3 versions of my books (and others by the same publisher) will be released in due course but, until then, if you want to hear me on the bus, drop your Ipod and retrieve your 1980s Walkman from the cupboard. [well, I still have mine ...]

Monday 15 January 2007

Cartes de Visite

A Cartes de VisiteCartes de Visite

The premier site for these fascinating calling-cards used by middle and upper class Victorians is here, but my friend Ken Page has graciously donated 13 digitised cartes of his own to the Victorian Dictionary. Enjoy!

Sunday 14 January 2007

Heffers Bookshop

Heffers BookshopHeffers Bookshop, Cambridge - 22nd February

A quick note to say that I will be 'appearing' at Heffers Bookshop, Cambridge (UK) as part of their Crime through Time evening on February 22nd 2007. It's an annual event (there is a parallel general crime night 'Bodies in the Bookshop' in the summer) where 'historical crime' writers gather, chat and mingle with anyone who turns up. There's normally two dozen writers there, often overwhelming the public, signing books and talking shop. I fear, in fact, that the authors enjoy it more than anyone else ... but do come along!

Fish Scales

Fish Scale EmbroideryFish Scales

Today a reader inquired after 'Fish-Scale Embroidery' in Cassells Household Guide. The Guide is a great book - one of the principal 'bibles' of the Victorian middle-class housewife, published in umpteen editions, originally in serial form. I've listed the contents but it's too vast to fully digitise, for the moment at least, short of employing an army of trained monkeys. I was, however, happy to digitise the brief section involved. I naively assumed that 'Fish-Scale' was a metaphor for a particular stitch or similar - how wrong I was! So, for how to produce 'exquisite' embroidery with, erm, fish, see the relevant section of the Guide.

Saturday 13 January 2007

Cruikshank's Comic Almanack

Cruikshank's Comic Almanack

Cruickshank's April Showers

A teaser for forthcoming pics on ... a complete set of the 'months' in the great cartoonist's Almanack, 1835-38, and some other selections. What I love about Cruikshank is the level of painterly detail that goes into every cartoon. Above is April 1835 (on the theme of April showers) - note the "Umbrella Depot" ... certainly Victorian shops were commonly called "Warehouses" (eg. "Jay's Mourning Warehouse") and I suspect "Depot" was commonplace too.