George Measom’s Guide to the South-Eastern Railway

George Measom’s Guide to the South-Eastern Railway

Whilst writing Mr Blackwood I was able to visualise a good deal of the train journey with the help of George Measom’s Guide to the South Eastern Railway, which was published in 1853, two years after the Great Exhibition. It is a typical Victorian travel guide, similar to the ones published by George Bradshaw. It doesn’t, unfortunately, say much about the railway itself, but concentrates […]

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What Else Happened in 1851?

What Else Happened in 1851?

Lord John Russell was Prime Minister – Lord Palmerston resigned as Foreign Secretary in December – The window tax was repealed – Lajos Kossuth, hero of the 1848 revolution in Hungary, arrived in England – The first submarine cable to Calais was laid – Landseer painted The Monarch of the Glen and Millais Mariana – Ruskin championed the Pre-Raphaelites – Macready played Macbeth for the […]

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Building the Crystal Palace

Building the Crystal Palace

I was going to write a post on the design and building of the Crystal Palace, Joseph Paxton’s masterpiece, but then I discovered this wonderful sequence on Youtube. In a future post I will describe how the Hyde Park version of the Crystal Palace was dismantled after the Great Exhibition and taken to Sydenham where it was re-assembled and, I’m sad to say, ruined. In […]

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Lost houses reveal intriguing stories

Lost houses reveal intriguing stories

Whilst I was nearing the end of Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium in early 2016, I had to take time out to write the text for Lost Houses of the South Pennines, the booklet (later a book) which accompanied my artist daughter Kate’s exhibition at Bankfield Museum in Halifax. The houses in question – there were ten of them – have disappeared, in some cases without trace, […]

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The Thames in 1851 – an elongated cesspool!

The Thames in 1851 – an elongated cesspool!

As a thoroughfare, the Victorian Thames was much busier than the modern one. Engravings from the mid-century show the river so packed with steamers that it is remarkable that they did not collide more often.  Steamers were designated above or below bridge depending on whether they operated upstream or downstream of London Bridge. The above-bridge boats, all of them paddle steamers, belonged either to the […]

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Why 8 October 1851?

Why 8 October 1851?

Mr Blackwood and his party visit the Great Exhibition on 8 October. I chose the date for two reasons: one is that it was the day of peak attendance, when 109,915 people went through the turnstiles; the second is that it was the day that the Duke of Wellington paid his last visit to the Crystal Palace. (Tennyson and Lord Palmerston certainly visited the Exhibition, […]

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The Koh-I-Noor diamond – a Victorian disappointment

The Koh-I-Noor diamond – a Victorian disappointment

In 1849 the ruler of the Punjab, the 10-year-old Duleep Singh, was forced to sign over his kingdom along with the Koh-I-Noor diamond to the British. Five years later he travelled to England, where he spent the rest of his life in exile, but not before giving Queen Victoria permission to re-cut the diamond, a permission he later came to regret and which led to […]

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Victorian adverts

Victorian adverts

The picture at the head of this post (by John Orlando Parry) is entitled ‘The Poster Man’ and dates from 1835. Two things made this explosion of advertising possible: the growth in literacy and the invention of the steam-powered printing press.  A surprisingly large number of the posters in the illustration are for theatres and concerts; in newspapers and magazines, most of the adverts would […]

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Harrison’s Hostel

Harrison’s Hostel

Harrison’s Hostel really did exist. Thomas Cook, who, as a temperance reformer, got into the travel business by using excursions to lure working people away from drink, persuaded Mr Thomas Harrison of Pimlico to turn his furniture depository into a hostel for visitors to the Great Exhibition. From Cook’s point of view, the venture proved a great success in that it protected ordinary travellers from […]

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The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys

The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys

If Henry Mayhew is remembered at all today, it is as author of London Labour and the London Poor, a series of articles on street traders, buskers, beggars and the like. He was also the editor of Punch and a novelist. Mr and Mrs Sandboys – or, to give it its full title, 1851 the Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys and Family who Came […]

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