A Wuthering Heights Original

A Wuthering Heights Original

Back in August I posted a blog about my artist daughter’s exhibition on the Lost Houses of the South Pennines in Halifax. (If you want to check it out, it’s the one that begins: 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 […]

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Fern Mania

Fern Mania

In Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium Mr Malachi Brown, who gets on the train at Tunbridge, is introduced to his fellow passengers as ‘the eminent pteridologist’. So what was pteridology and how did one become eminent in it?  In 1855, the Rev Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies, wrote: Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’…and wrangling over unpronounceable names of species (which […]

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Railway Navvies

Railway Navvies

The first tale in Mr Blackwood is told by the Waterloo veteran, Corporal Costello, and the second by Stumps, the railway navvy. This pairing was intended to echo the first two Canterbury Tales, where the Knight’s tale, much to the irritation of the Host, is followed by that of the oafish Miller. The world of the navvies is a fascinating one. One of the most […]

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A Short Biography of Dickens’s Face

A Short Biography of Dickens’s Face

Until the 1840s Charles Dickens was, like most early Victorians, clean-shaven. In 1842, he travelled for the first time to the United States where he met Edgar Allan Poe, at that time the owner of a fine but restrained moustache. Dickens was smitten and quickly grew one of his own.  (Moustaches were often referred to in the plural, as in ‘a pair of moustaches’). “The […]

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Exit through the Gift Shop

Exit through the Gift Shop

As far as I know there wasn’t a gift shop in the original Crystal Palace, thought there may well have been one in its successor in Sydenham. But if there wasn’t a souvenir shop, there was no shortage of souvenirs. My great grandfather, who was an exhibitor, brought home a paperweight. This object, which lived for many years on my grandparents’ mantel piece, first kindled […]

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Tales from the Cutting Room Floor

Tales from the Cutting Room Floor

In the course of my researches for the book in the London Library I came across many wonderful  historical details which I would have loved to have included, but was self-disciplined enough to reject.  I had to keep reminding myself that what mattered was the tale I was trying to tell and that I must not let it be impeded by historical clutter. Here are […]

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A Theatrical Comet

A Theatrical Comet

Edmund Kean was the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day. His performance as Shylock at the Drury Lane Theatre in January 1814 – he was then twenty-seven – is said to have roused the audience to almost uncontrollable enthusiasm. The poet Coleridge famously said, “Seeing him act was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” Successive appearances as Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and Lear […]

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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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