Saturday 19 December 2009

Diary of a Murder - Kindle


Lots of positive feedback already on putting The Diary of a Murder online ... also several people encouraging me to Twitter ...

Will it draw attention to the book? If so, it's worth it ... so you can find me at

Am I now a Twit?


The book is now also available on KINDLE - contact me for details.

Monday 7 December 2009



A pairs of tickets to Simon Callow's latest Christmas performance as Dickens (at the Hammersmith Riverside) are available to two lucky readers of and this blog.

To be placed in the draw, then simply answer the following question:

"In which of London's ancient Inns of Chancery did Charles Dickens take rooms, as a young man?"

in an email to Best of luck!

[closing date for competition entries: 14 December]

Sunday 6 December 2009

Bang! You're dead!


One of the things I'm always trying to tell people about the Victorians, is - contrary to our traditional view - how much they liked to have fun. Public entertainments of all types flourished in the Victorian period, and one that is largely forgotten is the shooting-gallery. There were no restrictions on fire-arms ownership, and I suspect they weren't even licensed. These establishments were, I think, predominantly small side-show type experiences with air-rifles by the end of the century (cf. the shooting-gallery described in 1850s Bleak House, which is a larger, more professional affair). I'm thinking of including one in my next book, and I've been trawling the press. They were very common places of amusement, and - yes, you guessed it - rather dangerous. Here's two examples of accidents (many can be found!):

Samuel Porter, 38, a gentleman described as an engineer of Magheramorne, Ireland, was charged on Tuesday with unlawfully shooting Charles Cresswell, an attendant at one of the rifle saloons of the Royal Aquarium, Westminster. Mr. E. Duncan Rymer, solicitor, who appeared for the accused said he wished at the outset to say that no one regretted this sad occurrence more than his client did. It will be shown that it was a pure accident. - Mr. Safford, the chief clerk, mentioned that the injured man was in Westminster hospital, and he was informed progressing favourably. - Inspector Noviss deposed that at a quarter to nine o'clock on Monday night, he was on duty at the Aquarium and was called to the shooting-gallery, where he found one of the attendants named Cresswell, lying on his back with a bullet-wound in the left breast. The defendant was pointed out as the person who had shot the man. Mr. Porter, who appearance greatly distressed, said he was handed a pistol by Cresswell, and it went off accidentally. He (the inspector) had examined and produced the pistol. He found that there was no trigger guard, and scarcely any trigger. The slightest pressure would discharge the weapon. - Mr. Rymer observed that it was a most dangerous weapon to be used in a place of public entertainment. - The magistrate, after examining the pistol, said he quite agreed with Mr. Rymer's opinion. There was no guard to it, and if a man took it up with the least pressure it must explode. It appeared that the attendant handed the pistol to the accused with the barrel pointed at his own breast. It was a more deplorable accident, but the defendant was not to blame in the least. He was discharged.
POLICEMAN SHOT IN HOLBORN. - David Purcell, 44, confectioner, 39, Verulam-street, Holborn, was charged with being drunk and discharging an air-gun in Leather-lane, to the common danger of the public. Police-constable Scoveil, 471 G, said that on the afternoon of Good Friday he was on duty in Leather-lane, and noticed the prisoner at a shooting-gallery stall. On getting some twelve yards past the stall, he felt something strike the back of his helmet. He turned round sharp, and saw the prisoner with an air-gun to his shoulder, the muzzle pointing at witness. The prisoner, who was under the influence of drink, said he knew nothing about it. The pellet lodging inside the helmet. In defence, the Prisoner said he was having "four shots a penny" and was twisting the gun round, when it went off accidentally. It was stated that the prisoner had only come out of gaol on Thursday. There were several previous convictions against the prisoner for assaults. Mr. Horace Smith now sent Purcell to prison for six months for assaulting the constable.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Young Vic


The press guy promoting Young Victoria in the US sends me links to this, that and the other. In case anyone is interested, here is the trailer:

I don't think the reviews here were overwhelming (eg. Guardian, Daily Mail) but you might want to check it out.

Saturday 28 November 2009



I'm kicking myself that I forgot to mention the British Library's Points of View exhibition on 19th Century photography, which I visited a couple of weeks ago. There's a lot to see here - not so much on London, but it does include Fox Talbot's famous shot of Nelson's Column under construction from the 1840s. There's also a nice blog of the exhibition, including some videos of early photographic methods, in case you fancy trying your hand at the wet collodion process. My first book London Dust deals with early Victorian photography, as it happens ... along with a couple of murders, a pornographer and a music hall star ...

Thursday 26 November 2009



It's a little-known fact that vegetarianism was a Victorian 'lifestyle' with several vegetarian restaurants in London in the late century (I must admit I don't know the precise figures). Contemporary cartoonists were not always very understanding of the vegetarian (see above from Punch, one of my favourites from the magazine).

[This is also a cunning pointer to a new post on Some other ideas - yes, more bad poetry. But you don't have to read it.]

Wednesday 25 November 2009



Bloomeration (London, 1891). Illumination. First heard 9th November at Prince of Wales' illuminations.

Monday 23 November 2009



A couple more brief entries from 'Passing English of the Victorian Era':

Bellywengins (E. Anglian, chiefly Suffolk). A violent corruption of 'belly-vengeance', a cruel comment upon the sour village beer of those regions.

(Lond., 1883). Hanged; a ghastly word, referring to Bartholomew Binns, a hangman appointed in 1883.

Friday 20 November 2009

Bags of Mystery


More suspicious slang from 'Passing English of the Victorian Era', a dictionary which I suspect is not entirely to be trusted. The list of different types of Victorian beard is quite good, mind you:

Bags o' Mystery. (Peoples'). A satirical term for sausages, because no man but the maker knows what is in them.
     'If they're going to keep running-in polony fencers for putting rotten gee-gee into the bags of mystery, I hope they won't leave fried-fish-pushers alone.'
     This term took its rise about 1850, long before the present system of market-inspection was organised. But this term remained long after sausages were fairly wholesome. The 'bag' refers to the gut which contained the chopped meat.

irrelevant image
shamelessly snatched

(1856-60). A full beard, first seen upon the faces of the English army upon their return to England from Crimea. The new departure was instantly dubbed with the name of the most popular of the three great battles (Alma, Balaclava, Inkermann), the name probably being chosen by reason of the brilliancy of the charge of the Light Brigade. French writers who had visited the Great Exhibition of 1851, and who had been struck by the absolute absence of the moustache (except in the case of some military men), and the utter absence of the beard, without exception, were astonished upon return visits half-a-dozen years afterwards, to find Englishmen were bearded like the pard. Britons upon the principle of reaction always going the whole hog, grew all the hair they could, and the mere moustache of Frenchmen was nowhere in the fight. Interestingly enough, exactly as the wild, unkempt beard of 'The Terror ' dwindled into the moustache for the young, and the cotelette (mutton-chop) for the elderly, so the Balaclava (which abated the razor, as a daily protesting sacrifice to anti-gallicanism) toned down by '70, into the various beards of to-day the Peaked, the Spade, the Square, and other varieties of Tudor beards. These remained until the Flange, or Dundreary (see 1872-73),came in and cleared the chin, to be followed by the Scraper. To-day the 'York' prevails the short, pointed beard still worn by the Prince of Wales.

Banbury (London, 1894). One of the more recent shapes of 'jam', 'biscuit', 'cake', 'confectionery', 'tart' (qq.v.) a loose woman.
     Witness took several names and addresses, and some of the females described themselves as 'Banburys'; and said they got their living as best they could. — Raid on the Gardenia Club, The People, 4th February 1894.

Some Other Ideas


A new blog launched yesterday, containing random bits of stuff from my strangely uninteresting life ... some other ideas.

Saturday 14 November 2009



You've got to love any dictionary of slang that includes:

Alexandra Limp* (Soc., ab. 1872). An affected manner of walking seen for several years amongst women. Said to have been imitated from the temporary mode in which the then Princess of Wales walked after some trouble with a knee. (See Buxton Limp, Grecian Bend, Roman Fall.)

It's from Passing English of the Victorian Era by J. Redding Ware which I'm thinking about digitising properly (as the pdf is fine, but the text version is a mess).

I've only done the 'A' section so far. I also like:

Academic Nudity* (Oxford). Appearance in public without cap or gown.

[*not pictured ;-) ]

Mord Em'ly


Pardon? you may well say. Well, Mord Em'ly (Maud Emily as she is known to the authorities) is one of the great unsung heroines (anti-heroines?) of Victorian fiction [and also the answer to the question I set in the previous post]. She appears in the novel Mord Em'ly by William Pett Ridge (1901) - a writer who rather specialised in teenage slum characters at the end of the 1890s.

A street-girl from Walworth (Elephant and Castle), we first see her involved in a girl-gang fight. She is both sarcastic, resourceful, aggressive, argumentative, a victim of her upbringing and yet a marvellous product of the slums ... ok, I'll stop the list, but she's a brilliant character. If you think that snappy witty females are a modern innovation, or possibly go back to the screwball comedies of the 1930s, then think again. This one's thoroughly Victorian. In fact, I think I'm in love. Here's how she deals with a young policeman who looks like he's going to arrest her:

    "Never merried that gel, did you?" asked Mord Em'ly loudly. The young constable was new to the L Division, and she had not seen him before. "I s'pose, as a matter of fact, she couldn't stand your fice. 'Tain't what you'd call 'andsome, is it now?"
    A few people stopped and listened. One man advised Mord Em'ly, with great relish, to continue.
    "She told me," said the small girl to the now scarlet-faced young constable—"of course, I don't know—but she told me that the sight of you used to turn the milk sour. That's what she said, mind. But, as I said, we're none of us perfect, and no doubt it was all the result of an accident. I s'pose when you was a lad you fell down and trod on your fice, and--"

Or, alternatively, here's the first proper meeting with the future love of her life

    "Know this feller, don't you?" asked Miss Gilliken, jerking her head in the direction of the youth.
    "Seen his mug before," said Mord Em'ly, looking at him casually. "Can't say I know his name."
    "Name of 'Enery Barden," said the youth, in a deep, hoarse voice, stepping forward, and introducing himself awkwardly. "Got a job at the Willer Walk Station; also to be met with, Saturday evenings, at the boxing-saloon of the Green Man."
    "Where did ye find it?" asked Mord Emily of Miss Gilliken, with a satirical accent.
    "Who are you calling 'it'? " demanded Mr. Barden aggressively. "P'r'aps you'll kindly call me "im ' and not 'it' "
    "P'r'aps I shall do jest as I like," replied Mord Em'ly. She turned to Miss Gilliken. "Did you win it in a raffle? "
    "I'll tell you presently," said Miss Gilliken.
    "Sometimes they give 'em away," said Mord Em'ly thoughtfully, "with a packet of sweets. I 'ave seen 'em offered instead of a coker-nut or a cigar at one of these Aunt Sally—"
    "Look 'ere!" interrupted Mr. Barden crossly. "You think you're jolly clever, no doubt."
    "Think? " repeated Mord Em'ly. "Don't I know it?"

Her creative origins, I think, are not literary but in the strong female characters of music-hall. She has a lot to contend with - a drunken mother; a vicious father, returned from the dead, a rabble-rousing 'socialist' who wants to exploit her naivety, and her only chance of a decent life emigrates to Australia. Well, now she's finally on the internet ...

Read the full story here!

On the topic of Australia


Working on a brilliant digitisation at the moment (more to follow, in due course) but here's a teaser of the witty writing:

"Do you mind doing me a favour, miss? Do you mind—if you get a chance to-day—cracking up foreign places as much as possible? Do you mind mentioning, in a off'and way, that you've 'eard Australia spoke of as a good deal like South London, only better?"

"A good deal like South London, only better"

... it's the tourist slogan that the Antipodes have been waiting for, no?

Kudos to anyone who can name the book ... [too late - answered my own question in next post!]

Monday 9 November 2009



It seems to be the month of 'traditional' Victorian subjects on this blog ... first Jack the Ripper, then fog ... only because I had an interesting email from a reader whose ancestor died in a terrible fog of 1873. A quote from a newspaper which my correspondent uncovered:-

On Friday afternoon, the deputy coroner for Middlesex, held an inquiry at the Spotted Dog Tavern, High Street, Poplar, respecting the deaths of Robert Bryant 52, Thomas Ford 53, James Price 63, William Everett 38, Henry Carol 20 , Fitzroy Waters 17 and Thomas Cleman 44, all of whom perished through falling into the waters of the West India Docks during the intense fog of Tuesday evening last. . . . The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and requested the coroner to write to the Company urging them to have iron stands erected so that in the event of fogs occurring ropes or chains could be at once attached to avoid a recurrence of such a melancholy catastrophe . . . The following accidental deaths are reported to have taken place during the fog: - On Wednesday night Catherine Brookes 50 walked into the Regents Canal and was drowned. Tuesday William Farinth 28 fell off a boat into the Regents Canal at Limehouse. Patrick Reardon 38 fell into the London Docks. Bartholomew Donovan 57 dock labourer found drowned on Wednesday. Edward Fisher a cooper in the London Docks fell into the dock on Wednesday night 10th December. A dock constable was found in Millwall Docks. Joseph Reynolds fell off his barge while parking on the Thames and drowned.”

Eastern Post 20 December 1873

Punch was happy to weigh in on the topic:-


FIRST. - Should the fog be very dense, withdraw half the Police from the thoroughfares. Remember their lives are valuable to the community at large.
Secondly. - Let none of the Street Lamps be lighted, until the usual time (if then); they are of very little use, and the shops must have more blaze than usual. Never do for yourself what you can get some one else to do for you.
Thirdly. - In the neighbourhood of St. Paul's and the Banks, where the traffic, like the Fog, is at its thickest, let care be taken to secure the absence of all light and all Police. Surely everyone who is out on such a day ought to be old enough and wise enough to take care of himself. As to omnibuses, waggons, carts, cabs and carriages, they ought all to have lamps, and, when they haven't lights, they have lungs, and can ward off danger by continuous shouting.
Fourthly. - No extra Gas must be used at Railway stations, and great care should be taken that all the carriages may be left without the usual lamps. When the Fog has entirely cleared off, the Lamps may be lighted, and the Police may resume their duties.

Punch, December 20, 1873

It seems 1873 was a particularly bad year - see here for a brief mention - and it's always worth remembering that Victorian fog wasn't just 'atmosphere' in the theatrical sense; it made London dangerous for Londoners - sometimes fatal.

Friday 6 November 2009

Jack the Ripper


I have no interest in who was Jack the Ripper. We'll never know; and I find certain people's fascination with serial killers a bit disgusting. That said, I am fascinated by how early the murders were exploited for commercial interests. I just came across this:-

WHITECHAPEL NUISANCES. - Thos. Barry surrendered to take his trial for creating a nuisance by carrying on a show in the Whitechapel-road, and thereby causing large numbers of disorderly people to assemble and obstruct the public highway. This was a prosecution instituted by the Highway board of Whitechapel. - The defendant was the occupier of two houses in the Whitechapel-road, and it was alleged on the part of the prosecution that, finding his ordinary attractions had entirely failed to arouse public interest he took advantage of the excitement which had been caused by the murders in Whitechapel to exhibit ghastly and disgusting representations of the victims. It was stated that the public exhibited disgust at this feature of the exhibition, and that it was modified to some extent, but the horrible crimes that had taken place in the neighbourhood were still sought to be made objects of attraction to the public. - Mr. Purcell, for the defence, argued that the accused had a right to carry on the business of a showman if he pleased, and the only question for the consideration of the jury was whether he carried on his business in such a manner as to create a nuisance to the public. He calld witnesses to show that exhibitions of all kinds - rifle galleries, fortune telling, cocoanut shying - took place in the same neighbourhood, and that a great deal of the noise and obstruction was caused by these exhibitions, rather than by the defendant's show. - The jury found the defendant "Guilty." - There was a similar charge against another defendant named Lindley, for a nuisance in the same locality, and the accused pleased "Guilty." - The defendants were liberated, on their undertaking to abate the nuisance, and come up for judgment if called upon.

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, 10 February 1889

Friday 30 October 2009

East London Theatre Archive


Some research on East London leads me to stumble across the East London Theatre Archive, run by my old workmates at University of East London. I hadn't realised it was live and online - shame on me!

Enjoy playbills and ads from the wilds of East London, here.

Lost Streets - Bozier's Court (2)


A conversation with a reader takes me back to the picture libraries and I find this great shot from English Heritage of the buildings that delimited the court on the eastern side. (3rd picture, Ref no: CC97/01522) ...

... shame there's no way to link to it directly. The other pics of the corner are obviously post 1900, and I've emailed them about the dates.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Walking about in 1896


Sadly, most films of Victorian life (there aren't many) are either

1. people walking about

2. pictures of the Tower Bridge / Windsor Castle / [other random well-known tourist landmark that hasn't changed in a hundred years]

This falls into that first category, but it's nice enough - crossing Blackfriar's Bridge, courtesy of the BFI:

Lost Streets - Bozier's Court


It's rare for London streets to vanish entirely these days, whereas building projects in the Victorian period removed a good number of slums and the alleys and roads in central London. You only have to look at the main railway stations, or the creation of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue in the 1880s. It's less usual, however, to find such changes in the heart of the West End. I came across this recently:

Of all the London streets which have disappeared, I seem to miss Bozier's Court the most acutely. Bozier's Court was opposite the Horse-Shoe, and led from Tottenham Court Road to Oxford Street; it was supposed to be a short cut, but for me it never was a short cut because it contained such fascinating second-hand book shops. I have an idea it had not the furtive air cultivated by Holywell Street . . .
W. Pett Ridge, A Story Teller : Forty Years in London, 1923
which reminded me of a lost road which I've always found interesting. Ever wondered why the southern end of Tottenham Court Road is strangely wide? It's because a whole (admittedly rather narrow) block of buildings and alley is missing. You can see it in the pic above, and read more here - it was demolished in 1900. Here's a map from 1862 (from Motco):

It was not a street entirely of booksellers in the mid-century. My 1856 directory lists just one:

3 Brittlebank William, hairdresser
4 Ridgway John, writer on glass
5 & 14 Westell Mrs. Jane, bookseller
6 Lear Henry, greengrocer
7 Marchand Maurice, hatter
10 Young William, coffee rooms
12 Ingram Thomas, butcher
13 Butler James, fishmonger
14 & 5 Westell Mrs. Jane, bookseller

Unfortunately, I don't have a later directory to check if more booksellers appeared. I find this in Notes and Queries from 1900 which, at least, shows that the Westells' shop survived for many years:

"The demolition of the block of houses at the junction of the Tottenham Court Road with Oxford Street reminds us that the little passage on the west side of the block, called Bozier's Court, is notwithout its associations. Here, fifty years ago, Mr. Westell, who, we believe, is now the oldest bookseller in London, had a shop which is mentioned in Lord Lytton's ' My Novel. In book vii. chap. iv. of that work we read: ' One day three persons were standing before an old bookstall in a passage leading from Oxford Street into Tottenham Court Road "Look," said one of the gentlemen to the other, " I have discovered here what I have searched for in vain the last ten years—the Horace of 1580, the Horace of the Forty Commentators!" The shopman, lurking within his hole like a spider for flies, was now called out.' The shopman who lurked was the esteemed Mr. Westell, who perfectly remembers seeing the Lyttons, father and son, walk into his shop one day, not to buy a 1580 Horace, but to inquire the price of some three volumenovel."

"Further up the road, in New Oxford Street, we find the shop of Mr. James Westell, whose career as a bookseller embraces a period of over half a century, having started in 1841. Mr. Westell first began in a small shop in Bozier's Court, Tottenham Court Road, and this shop has been immortalized by Lord Lytton in 'My Novel,' for it is here that Leonard Fairfield's friendly bookseller was situated. Bozier's Court was a sort of eddy from the constant stream which passes in and out of Oxford Street, and many pleasant hours have been spent in the court by book-lovers. After Mr. Westell left, it passed into the hands of another bookseller, G. Mazzoni, and finally into that of Mr. E. Turnbull, who speaks very highly of it as a bookselling locality. Mr. Turnbull added another shop to the one which was occupied by Mr. Westell; but when the inevitable march of improvements overtook this quaint place three or four years ago, Mr. Turnbull had to leave, and he then took a large shop in New Oxford Street, where he now is."
Looking at the Times, there's a court appearance for someone keeping a 'disorderly house' in the street in 1871, but nothing too remarkable in that for the West End. A waitress, living at no.13, who attempted to drown herself in the Thames in 1889. Then, finally, in the Era 1879 'Casey, Ball and Sterling' give no.11 as their correspondence address in an advert for an 'American Trio, Comedians and Dancers, Negro Acts. Great Success of their Roaring Sketch, entitled "PONGO."' Then another theatrical advert at the same address in 1882

WANTED for Hippodrome, Madrid, ACROBATS,
Knockabout Clowns, must be good Vaulters combinded. State
how many horses can vault. Apply by letter only. Three day's silence
a polite negative.
Address, PEDRO STERLING, 11 Bozier's-court, Oxford-street, London W.
Personally, I'd like to see Bozier's-court reinstated ... hmm, with the opposite corner being rebuilt for the Crossrail station, it's the perfect opportunity ... must get on the phone to Westminster Council. :-)

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Valentine's Day


By rights, I should save this until February, but I will have forgotten by then. A great Punch cartoon from 1844, with a strong hint of the fantastical about it, that doubtless - if I knew anything about the subject - could be placed in a long line of people-animal drawings.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

I'll corpse you!


One of many charming phrases to be found in Arthur Morrison's slum-lit classic, A Child of the Jago, 1896. Here's the appendix containing a list of most of the slang:

Balmy: barmy, stupid
Bang-up: very fine
Barney: lark, spree, quarrel
Benjamin: coat
Benjy: waistcoat
Break: collection made for someone recently out of prison
Boat, in the: sentenced to penal servitude
Broads: playing cards
Buster: burglar
Chancery, in: in an awkward situation
Chat, to screw a: to break into a house
Chiv(e): (v) to cut, stab (n) knife
Claim: to steal
Click: robbery, theft
Clock, red: gold watch
Cop: to steal
Croak: to die
Daisies: boots (rhyming slang—daisy roots)
Davy: affidavit
Dipper: pick-pocket
Fag: pick-pocket
Fall: to be arrested
Fence: receiver of stolen goods
Flimp: to rob
Friendly lead: subscription by whip-round usually held in a pub
Fully: to commit a person for trial
Gilt: money
Gonoph: thief esp. skilled pick-pocket
Go out: to follow the profession of thieving
Hook: pick-pocket
Ikey: Jew esp. receiver of stolen goods
James (jemmy): iron crow-bar
Kicksies: trousers
Lag: to sentence to penal servitude
Lagging dues: liable to be sentenced to penal servitude
Lob-crawling: till-robbing
Lucky, to cut one's: to make a getaway
Mace: (n) swindler (v)
To work the Mace: to swindle by obtaining goods on false pretences
Mag, on the: engaged in swindling esp. as confidence trickster
Magsman: swell confidence trickster
Mazzard: head, face Milling: boxing
Moke: donkey
Nark: (v) to inform (n) informer
Narking dues: arrested because of information provided by a nark
Neddy: loaded bludgeon or stick
Nick: to steal
Nobby: smart, stylish
Oof: money
Pecker, to keep one's pecker up: to remain cheerful
Peter: bag, box, trunk
Pogue: purse
Prop: tie-pin, brooch
Quid: pound
Quod: (v) to serve time (n) prison
Rorty: dashing, lively
Rum: odd
Screw: to break into
Slang: watch chain
Smug: to arrest
Sneak: to steal, pilfer
: counterfeit
Snidesman: coiner of counterfeit
Sparks: diamonds
Split: (v) to inform (n) 1. informer, 2. detective
Stall-farming: prob. helping pick-pockets
Stir: prison
Stramash: rough-and-tumble
Stretch: one year esp. prison sentence
Swag: stolen goods
Toke: bread
Topper: something of outstanding quality
Toy: watch
Toy getter: watch stealer
Toy and tackle: watch and chain
Turn over: to search/rob someone
Twirl: skeleton key
Uxter: money
Weed: to take, steal
Welsh: to inform
Welsher: informer
Yannups: money

Thursday 17 September 2009

Overarching ambition


Euston station is doomed. Not the Victorian station - London's first major station, which opened at the very start of Victoria's reign (1837) - which was demolished years ago. But, rather, the 1960s disaster that replaced it. Plans are afoot for a complete redevelopment, in the early years of the next decade.

Contrary to what you might imagine, I quite like many modern buildings. But there is nothing (and I can't stress this enough) nothing positive to be said about the current Euston station. It's a functional shed, with no imagination or creative thought seemingly having been expended upon it. Let's hope we do better with Euston 3.0.

There is, however, a campaign to restore part of the original station in the process, namely the Euston Arch. The historian and tv presenter Dan Cruickshank leads the campaign and your can visit the relevant blog here. It features an image of what a rebuilt arch might look like (see above) and details of the remarkable recovery of original stones from demolished building, found in a canal in east London.

Is it worth it?

The precedent, cited by the campaigners, is naturally St. Pancras, only half a mile down the road from Euston. But there were two good reasons for renovating the old St. Pancras Station.

1. the moving of the Eurostar terminal to St. Pancras guaranteed it would be a prestigious project
2. it is a unique and astonishing building

Euston Arch, on the other hand? I don't get it.

Money, of course, is an issue (it could easily be £10 million, apparently) but I can't claim to understand the complexities of funding such projects - government money, developer's money, lottery funds - and I suspect cash could be found. Let's put that aside - what's the jusitification?

Yes, the arch was imposing; a London landmark. Moreover, it was a popular outcry against its destruction that is believed to have saved nearby St. Pancras from a similar fate. I'm sure many Londoners have fond memories of it. But the new arch won't be in the same place; it won't fulfil the same function (opening onto Euston Square, rather that onto the station buildings) and - I think this is the decider for me - it will bear no relation, visually or in function, to the new station.

With the Victorian Gothic of St. Pancras, the architectural elements combined with the function of the building created something exciting - something that had never existed before - something that's worth preserving. But Euston arch? Without the original station - of which it was an integral part - it seems odd to recreate it as a piece of isolated window-dressing. I also just cannot understand the need to use the original stones - dredged at vast expense from their subaqueous (is that a word?) resting place - when the associated costs of restoration etc. (admitted by the campaigners) will triple the budget for the project; and when the complete set of stones have not been found (so a good deal of new material will be incorporated, regardless).

Perhaps I am being too mean-spirited. Temple Bar has been placed at St. Pauls, somewhat distant from its original site, and I enjoy seeing it there. That, however, was kept broadly intact, and not smashed to pieces in a canal. Moreover, being a much smaller structure, I imagine it cost a fraction of what it would cost to reconstruct Euston Arch; and it has a much longer and more interesting history attached to it.

Macmillan (the prime minister who approved the original demolition) commented 'an obsession with such buildings will drain our national vitality'. I can't quite agree with that - a fascination with history can be intensely rewarding and instructive - but I sympathise a little. I never saw the arch in the flesh; and I suspect nostalgia plays a great part here. It sounds harsh, but I'm inclined to say let's focus on building a new exciting London - preserve out heritage, by all means - but not try to resurrect ghosts from the past.

Friday 11 September 2009



'Hooligans' first appeared in the 1890s. Previously they were called 'roughs' or 'thugs' and 'Hooligan' was just an Irish surname; then the word somehow acquired the modern meaning.

Clarence Rook's The Hooligan Nights (1899), purporting to be a factual account of the London underworld, contemplates a sample 'hooligan' in Lambeth, by the name of Alf. His book doesn't quite read like a straight documentary account; and one suspects - simply because its so artfully done - that it's substantially fiction. Rook does, however, provide an explanation for the word's origin:

"There, was, but a few years ago, a man called Patrick Hooligan, who walked to and fro among his fellow-men, robbing them and occasionally bashing them. This much is certain. His existence in the flesh is a fact as well established as the existence of Buddha or of Mahomet. But with the life of Patrick Hooligan, as with the lives of Buddha and of Mahomet, legend has been at work, and probably many of the exploits associated with his name spring from the imagination of disciples. It is at least certain that he was born, that he lived in Irish Court, that he was employed as a chucker-out at various resorts in the neighbourhood."

I strongly suspect this also is pure fiction. I can't find this man in the press, certainly not in the early articles which use the word; and Rook's comparison to Buddha or Mahomet is protesting just a little too much. The next thing, of course, is to consult the OED:

"The word first appears in print in daily newspaper police-court reports in the summer of 1898. Several accounts of the rise of the word, purporting to be based on first-hand evidence, attribute it to a misunderstanding or perversion of Hooley or Hooley's gang, but no positive confirmation of this has been discovered. The name Hooligan figured in a music-hall song of the eighteen-nineties, which described the doings of a rowdy Irish family, and a comic Irish character of the name appeared in a series of adventures in Funny Folks."
The OED is not quite right, however - and I know this only because of the new British Library press database. I've put the articles here - what it shows is that the first 'hooligans' were a distinct gang in Lambeth in 1894 who called themselves the 'Hooligan boys'. This follows a music-hall song called the 'O'Hooligan Boys' which was being performed nearby in 1891; and one is inclined to think that is where they got the name. The phrase then got generalised - a 'masher' in Paddington (nowhere near Lambeth) is called a 'member of the Hooligan gang' in 1895 - until we have 'hooligan girls' who push and punch another girl in 1898.

In short, looking through the press reports, the phrase clearly describes a particular group of young men in 1894. The specificity to Lambeth, and that particular group is gradually lost, as more shocking stories of 'hooliganism' appear (often not much different from regular crimes, to tell the truth). There is, admittedly, a particular flare-up of violence in Lambeth in 1898, which attracts the 'hooligan' tag - and more press attention to the area. But soon it appears 'hooliganism' is everywhere, not just darkest South London.

Interestingly, some of the offences ascribed to 'hooligan gangs' are serious - murder and threatening witnesses - whilst some are trivial (knocking hats off people's heads, for instance) but the tag of 'hooligan' fits all. British residents can compare and contrast with the modern 'hoodie' paranoia, or any moral panic in the last two hundred years. There were, of course, plenty of criminals in Lambeth - but how many were 'hooligans'?

The moral, if any, is that the press - the media - the public - love neat labels?

Punch drunk!


Continuing the (not very convincing) food and drink theme for this month's blog entries, I've started a new project. I have a whole run of Punch reprints mouldering on my shelves (1841-91) and I'm putting the full-page cartoons online.

The first volume (July-Dec 1841) is now available here
and I plan to add additional volumes, when I get the chance.

The cartoons, although visually engaging, are largely satirical/political in nature and Victorian politics is quite beyond me - most feature Robert Peel or Lord Melbourne in this period, but I have difficulty telling the difference between even them. If anyone wants to add comments that would enable me to put some contextual information, please do so!

Wednesday 9 September 2009

This is toast!


Not all entries in Cassell's Household Guide are very illuminating. Pity the poor journalist obliged to concoct this literary masterpiece:-

Hot Buttered Toast.—The art of making really good toast is little understood, and this is largely the reason why it is so often denounced as unwholesome. A slice of bread burnt on the two outer surfaces, with its interior in a moist, waxy condition, has no right to be called toast, but is rather a compound of charcoal and tough, heavy, sodden dough, in which condition it is certainly and seriously unwholesome. But a slice of bread, not too thick, just browned on the outside, but thoroughly baked through, is wholesome and pleasant food, which may be fearlessly eaten. The way to toast bread thus is to keep it at the right distance from the fire, so that it may be toasted throughout before the outer surface is overdone — in other words, not to toast it too fast. Concerning the buttering of hot toast we may add another hint or two. An ill-toasted slice of bread does not absorb the butter, but allows it to remain in a mass on the surface. A slice of properly-toasted bread, on the contrary, allows the butter to permeate every part of it, and to all parts equally. Butter in the one case is too heavy for the stomach ; but when thus intimately associated with the whole mass of the food, in finely divided and proper proportions, its character is entirely changed, and it becomes wholesomely nutritious.

Friday 4 September 2009

This is jam!


More Victorian slang culled from the first novel (novella, really) of W. Somerset Maugham Liza of Lambeth (1897). Maugham had worked in the Lambeth slums, so he had first-hand experience of the way people talked. He explicitly notes that he does not give the 'unexpurgated' words of his characters (ie. we may safely assume that, in Lambeth, there was a good deal more swearing of a kind that never appeared in Victorian fiction) but it seems fairly accurate to me, looking at other sources and the OED.

Beeno (normally 'beano', elsewhere, I think) – party, spree

Boozed – drunk

Brake (noun) – OED gives ‘break’; waggon/coach for outing

Bust it – this one is not clear; may be 'bust' or Maugham's approximation of characters saying 'burst'; – 'make a great success of it', I think; also as exclamation, seemingly like ‘damn it’; not obviously in the OED

Cheese it! – leave it out!

Cock, old cock, cocker – mate, pal, familiar form of address to a man

Corker (Maugham writes as 'cawker') – a stunner, something astonishing

Dossy – stylish, smart, of a woman's clothing

Drag ­– waggon/coach for outing

Heel-tap – liquour left at bottom of a glass, dregs

This is jam! – this is great fun, this is a fine thing!

On my own hook – on my own

Mash – sweetheart, boyfriend

Got the needle – annoyed

Ooftish – money, cash

Pill – contemptible person, bore

Slobber (noun) – kiss

Still (noun) – a still birth

Whack (noun) – portion, share

Monday 31 August 2009



The endearingly barmy world of steampunk (a world with which I'm not overly familiar) seems to be gathering momentum, invading our more mundane reality with increasing frequency. Visit Oxford for an unlikely exhibition.

Thursday 30 July 2009

'If you go crooked I'll 'ave your wall-paper orn'minted wiv your brains'


One of many fun quotes from Clarence Rook's Hooligan Nights, a tale of street-crime, 1890s style. Here's a compendium of slang from the book which I just put together, some of it familiar, some not. How do you like your wobblers?

Barker –gun
Beano – rowdy entertainment, festivities, fun
Boko – nose
Brass – money
Bull-dog with six teeth – gun
Bung – landlord
Can – barman
Chivvy – face
Class, to be; doing something class - being or doing something impressive, admirable amongst criminals
Cocker – mate, pal
Cop – policeman
Crack a crib – burglary
Dabbed about – thrown
Dial - face
Fanlight jumping – burglary by breaking in through fanlight
Full up to the knocker – thoroughly drunk
Gargler ­– throat
Glim – candle, light
Hooks ­– hands
Kip – somewhere to sleep
Lagged – imprisoned
Lam – beat up, thrash
Lamps – eyes
Lever – lever-watch
Mug – idiot
His number’s up – he’s finished
Napper – head
Nipper – child
Off your rocker - mad
Prig – thief
Put someone’s lights out – kill them
Ready – ready money, money
Quiff – dodge, trick, ploy
Raws – bare fists
Razzo – nose, esp. a red nose
Row – fight
Do a scoot – flee; do a runner
Shut your head! – shut up
Slavey – (female) servant, maid of all work
Slop - policeman
Snide coin – counterfeit; planting snide coin
Snuff (someone) – kill, harm
Split – informer/detective/policeman
Sticker – knife
Step short – hurry up
Swag – ill-gotten gains
Swank – behave ostentatiously, swagger
Tea-leafing – petty opportune theft
Throttle – throat
Ticker – watch
Trotter cases – boots
Wet – beer/drink
Wobbler - egg

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Body Beautiful


The Wellcome Collection sends me a press release for their forthcoming exhibition 'Exquisite Bodies' on the intriguing subject of anatomical models. There is some good Victorian stuff here, and the rather disturbing images and content you might expect.

"Exquisite Bodies looks at the curious, beautiful and grotesque story of the anatomical model. First produced to stem the demand from Anatomy schools for fresh corpses in the 19th century, these beautifully crafted wax models are shockingly real.

We will have a series of free life-drawing workshops to coincide with the exhibition as these dolls and models offer such a radically different way of looking at the human body."

Not much on my site on this subject, I fear, but I've always liked the sound of Dr Kahn's Grand Anatomical Museum.

Friday 24 July 2009



Ever wondered how the Victorians managed without modern refrigeration? Well, of course, they had their methods - in particular, the global trade in ice - an amazing story of supply and demand. Here's a piece from Andrew Wynter on this remarkable subject. There's a handy Wikipedia brief article here, too.

Thursday 16 July 2009



How can I put this? How about


After spending two or three days sorting this map out, I made one unfortunate keyboard click - partly frustration with Google becoming a little cumbersome with over 300 place markers on the map - and this map was accidentally deleted from the Google site.

Yes, it's gone. If you've come to this page, looking for it, I'm sorry (and slightly depressed).

There is the earlier Google Earth version of the map (not quite so many places but pretty good) still visible under Maps on the main site.

Unfortunately, I don't really have the time or energy to rebuild - so I better shut up and chalk it up to experience. Grrrr.

I've made an effort to map Victorian London before on GoogleEarth, but Google Maps is more accessible and user-friendly, so I've now imported the old map and added a few things. You can see it below, or as a full page here.

I'd like to add a lot more to this map, and wonder if anyone has suggestions for particular Victorian buildings, past or present that should be pinpointed? Obviously, I have a few ideas myself ... but any favourites that I've missed?

Thursday 9 July 2009

Victorian Farmers Wanted


An advertisement sent to the author, which I'm happy to disseminate :-




We are looking for people for a unique opportunity to escape the modern world and spend a week on the farm featured in the BBC2 series ‘Victorian Farm’.

The team behind the original series are now looking for everyday families to take part in a new BBC2 series called ‘Escape in Time’. The families will have the chance to live on the original Victorian Farm estate for one week, rediscovering the practical skills and self-sufficiency that our grandparents had, but which we have lost, whilst competing against each other mastering tasks and crafts from the Victorian age.

It’s an unparalleled opportunity to work together as a family and enjoy the pleasure of learning to plough fields, weave baskets, make bread, sheer sheep, brew beer and many other skills.

If you think you might be interested, and you and your family (minimum of two people) can be available for one week’s filming in September 2009, please email with your contact telephone number, for more information."

Old Maidism


More from Andrew Wynter - this time on the introduction of "flats" (a concept the Victorians were very reluctant to adopt) with a collective kitchen, as a possible solution to metropolitan housing. Click here for the full article. However, what I really liked was the description of 'old maidism', the life of the lonely spinster ...

"Where once she was heard singing about the home, like Una making a sunshine in the shady place, her voice is now heard shrill in complaint; parrots and cats accumulate, taking the place of a more human love, and her words are those of sharp reproof and spite against those very instincts of maternity which have been so long the master-spirit of her thoughts."

Parrots and cats accumulate.

Think on, ladies. Nothing worse than accumulating parrots.*

[* with apologies to Ms. Kahlo]

Friday 12 June 2009

The Global Economy


The Victorians invented every aspect of the modern world : I've said it before, I'll say it again. Globalisation? See the British Empire. And here we have a (albeit rather fanciful and maudlin) critique of thoughtless global consumerism ... from 1865!

Would you tease me?


"Would you like to tease me, would you like to please me, would you like to kiss me if you only knew the way?"

Such was a fragment of song at the South London Palace, a popular music-hall in the 1880's ... one of the tit-bits of information you might gather from another report in the Bell's Life in London 'Past and Present' series (see Scotland Yard below).

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Inconsolable Grief Department


One interesting aspect of Victorian culture is how death was celebrated, or, perhaps a better word, commemorated. In my third novel 'The Welfare of the Dead' I concentrated on all things funerary, and, in particular, the institution of the 'mourning warehouse' - the department store that would supply all your mourning clothing, jewellery, stationery etc. I hadn't actually read that many accounts of the shops themselves, but I've just found a new one in Andrew Wynter's collected works ... read about the 'Inconsolable Grief Department' here.

Wednesday 3 June 2009



One for 'steampunk' fans of lost Victorian technologies .... a nice piece from Mr. Andrew Wynter on the future of pneumatic despatch systems ...

"The projector of the railway system could scarcely have foreseen the extent to which the locomotive would supersede other means of progression, and the principle of suction certainly starts on its career with as much certainty of succeeding as did that scheme. Some time towards the end of the century, we may perchance hear the householder giving directions to have his furniture sucked up to Highgate — for hills form but little impediment to the new system of traction, — or the coal merchant ordering a waggon load of coals to be shot into the pipe for delivery a dozen miles distant ..."

See Alfred Rosling-Bennett for a little more perspective. Picture courtesy of Illustrated London News Picture Gallery.

The Bridge of Sighs


Suicide by drowning was, I think, more common in the Victorian era - perhaps because fewer other methods were available - and bridges over canals, rivers etc. were danger areas. Even Hyde Park was not immune, as this excerpt from Andrew Wynter's journalism shows:-

"A little farther on stands the boat-house belonging to the Royal Humane Society; and in it are seen the awful-looking "drags" with which the drowning are snatched from Death's black fingers. Across the road is the establishment for recovering those who have been rescued from the water. Over the door is the bas-relief of a child attempting to kindle with his breath an apparently extinguished torch, and around it is the motto: "Lateat forsan scintilla," — Perhaps a spark still lingers. Baths, hot-water beds, electrifying machines, and mechanism by which artificial breathing can be maintained, are ranged around the rooms. .
The majority of poor creatures carried beneath these portals are persons who have sought their own destruction. The bridge across the Serpentine is the Westminster "Bridge of Sighs." Who would think this bright and sunny spot could be the haunt of suicides? They are mostly women of the better order, who have been brought to shame and abandoned —at least five women to one man being the proportion. The servants of the Society, who form a kind of detective water-police, and are always on the look-out, scarcely ever fail to mark and to watch the women who contemplate self-destruction. They know them by their usually sitting all day long without food, grieving; towards evening they move. When they find they are watched, they sometimes contrive by hiding behind the trees to elude observation, and to find the solitude they desire. The men, less demonstrative and more determined, escape detection, and but too often succeed in accomplishing their purpose. Those who have been restored to life, after hours of attention in the receiving-house, frequently repay the attendants with, "Why should I live against my will?" Nevertheless, it very rarely happens, here, at least, that a second attempt at suicide is made."

Mock Auctions


There's nothing new under the sun ... or, possibly, the Victorians invented modern life ... I can never quite decide. In any case, many of the criminal cons you see in London today (and elsewhere) go back a long way. I recently came across a Victorian reference to the 'long firm' (see Jake Arnott's novel of that title, in reference to the 1960s) and another classic is the 'mock auction', which can still be found in the metropolis, although I haven't seen one in Oxford Street for a year or two (but then I don't get out much!).

Monday 1 June 2009

Morbid Stuff


Two random items from Bell's Life in London ... a typical account of graveyard overcrowding in the 1830s and its unfortunate miasmatic consequences ...

" ... Mr. Ed. Cheeper, the master of the workhouse, stated, that about 11 o'clock he heard the loud screams of a female in the churchyard, and he instantly hastened to the spot, and looking into a grave about 20 feet deep, at the north-side of the churchyard, he saw the deceased grave-digger, Oakes, lying on his back, apparently dead ..."

plus a great account of a visit to Scotland Yard in the 1880s, including a walk through the Black Museum ...

" ... There is the pistol with which Oxford shot at the Queen in Birdcage-walk in 1840, and underneath the weapon the ill-written farrago of rubbish which he addressed to Her Majesty in the form of a petition. A relic from France - characteristic enough. A portrait of a gendarme who committed a murder, then hacked the body of his victim into pieces and distributed them all over Paris. Murderer, victim, pieces, photographed upon two sheets and framed. The Labrador spear with which the Lennie mutineers "prodded" their captain. Jemmies by the dozen, and blood-stained razors, knives and daggers ... "

[image - slightly unrelated - grave-robbers from The Mysteries of London!]

Wednesday 20 May 2009

The (Victorian) Office


An addition from the worthy Edmund Yates
on the rather easy-going life of a government office clerk. The clerks of the 1850s were, according to one voice in this piece, a degraded set of youths, 'a set of book-reading young thieves, whose sole pleasure consists in attending lectures or going to humbugging dancing-parties'. Preserve us from such disgusting creatures!

Obscure Victorian Hobbies .2


Would you like to make a 'feather-screen'? Sounds harmless enough? Cassells Household Guide thought such activity 'not beyond ordinary skill, and we have seen some very good ones made by ladies, though the sight of raw flesh, and the necessity of getting over scruples about touching it with the fingers, often deters them from attempting the necessary operations'.
Preparation is everything. First you need 'a good strong penknife, very sharp at the point, a quill pen, a small quantity of flowers of sulphur, arsenical soap, wadding, or cotton wool, or tow, a smooth board, some twine, a darning- needle, some strong pins, a hammer, and some copper bell-wire' and ... well, let's not beat around the bush (ahem) a dead bird.
I wonder how many game (ahem) readers of Cassells gave it a go.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Dog Carts


I've finished what I'm digitising by James Grant - the first few chapters of his Lights and Shadows of London Life from 1842 (not to be confused with James Payn's book of the same title). It's incomplete, because I can't lay my hands on the second volume at present, and the last chapter of the first book looks a little boring. Nonetheless, there are some interesting snippets, not least on the 'dog-cart'. In general Victorian parlance, this was a small trap for quick journeys, as pictured above. But, there was a much more literal predecessor ...

These latter observations lead me to say a word or two about another class of vehicles, which until the beginning of 1840, were quite common in the streets of the metropolis. I mean the very small carts which were drawn entirely by dogs. These lilliputian carts were used for a variety of purposes, and were sometimes drawn by one dog, although occasionally by as many as three. The dogs were duly harnessed as if they were horses, and were trained to their duties as drawers of these vehicles in a wonderful way. In many cases the persons, mostly boys or young men, charged with them, or to whom. they belonged, sat in the carts themselves, and drove the tractable creatures whip in hand, just as if they were horses. They proceeded at an amazing celerity through the streets; frequently exceeding hackney coaches and cabs in the rapidity of their movements. The only thing to be regretted was, that they were not only often overburdened, but very cruelly used by those who had the charge of them.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Old Clo!


The secondhand clothes trade was of considerable fascination to many of the 'social investigators' who documented London low-life. There were the secondhand clothes-sellers who padded the streets, with the cry of 'old clo!' and the shops and streets devoted to clothing of differing degrees of secondhanded-ness. One reason for this writerly fascination was the social significance of secondhand clothing. In the gradual decline of a piece of clothing from bran new to second-hand, to decrepit, there was a nice parallel for social decline - what clothes you wore marked your position in Society - and writers could summon forth images of the former owners of the clothes, in their different conditions in life, and their increasing social degradation. Dickens covers Monmouth Street in Sketches by Boz and others followed suit (as it were). One of these was James Grant in Lights and Shadows of London Life, who, amongst other things, documents the decline in fortune of 'a very intelligent surtout' in, ahem, its own words. More of Mr. Grant's book will follow in the next week or two.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Home Improvements


Did you think TV shows like 'Changing Rooms' et al. invented the popular interior design advice format?

Think again and refer to the wisdom of Mrs. Talbot Coke (surely a pseudonym? if not, it is too Victorian a name for words!) in the pages of Hearth and Home. Victorian women's magazines are endlessly fascinating ... here is just a snippet of Mrs. Coke's sage advice ...

Addendum ... Mrs. Talbot Coke was the name, as a reader informs me below ... see this link.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Found Drowned


The painter G.F.Watts has recently been in the news for his painting 'Hope' which has been cited by Barack Obama as a source of inspiration. Yesterday, I happened to stumble across a Watts exhibition at the Guildhall gallery, and remembered what I know him for - the 'social conscience' work, 'Found Drowned,' depicting the body of a fallen woman (fallen is too true - she has killed herself by throwing herself into the Thames). I'm not a big fan of his art, truth be told, but dedicated fans of Victorian painting should head to the Guildhall ... the exhibition closes on the 26th April.

Saturday 28 March 2009

(Don't) Pump It Up!


John Snow is one of those Victorians who ought to be revered, and it's interesting to note that several books about him have appeared in recent years. He both pioneered anaesthetics (chloroforming Queen Victoria during childbirth) and was amongst the first to suggest that cholera was not caught by 'miasma' (foul vapour) but transmitted by drinking polluted water - famously, in the case of the Broad Street pump in Soho, where brewers, drinking beer exclusively, were shown to be free of contagion.

Anyway, a reader points me to this site, a companion piece to Cholera, Chloroform, and the Science of Medicine: A Life of John Snow (Oxford University Press, 2003) which is packed full of all things Snow - well worth a look.

See also my earlier post, here.