1. The Hooligan Nights, by Clarence Rook (1899)

2. London and Londoners in the 1850s and 1860s, by Alfred Rosling Bennett (1924)

3. Curiosities of London Life, by Charles Manby Smith (1853)

BESTSELLER 4. Daily Life in Victorian London: an Extraordinary Anthology, edited by Lee Jackson (2011)

5. The Seven Curses of London, by James Greenwood (1869)

6. Twice Round the Clock, by George Augustus Sala (1859)

7. The Journal of a Disappointed Man, by W.N.P. Barbellion (1919)

8. The Diary of a Murder, by Lee Jackson (2011) 

9. The Wilds of London, by James Greenwood (1874)  


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Victorian London Ebooks No.9

The Wilds of London

by James Greenwood

'"God bless my soul! it must be a very shocking neighbourhood?" "It is, indeed, sir," replied Mr. Inspector; "at times it is unsafe for our men to perambulate it except in gangs of three."' ['A Visit to Tiger Bay']

'A puncheon of "fine old vatted rum" was under-labelled in great chalk letters "Cholera mixture!"' [A West-End Cholera Stronghold]

'It will hardly be believed that there are "swells" and dandies amongst the Portland convicts; but such is the fact. I have known men obtain a needle and thread on the sly and alter the set of their trousers - the trousers stamped with the red 'P's - to what was the prevailing fashion when they were last in the world.' ['Three Years of Penal Servitude']

'The court and alley dwellers of St. Mildred may be reckoned in thousands, and amongst them the standard of morality as regards the institution of matrimony is of exactly the height of a broomstick, and no higher. Not that they despise the ceremony, or are unwilling to engage in it, indeed - and as I have had occasion ere now to point out, once consummated they are curiously proud of it, and go to the expense of buying a frame in which to display the certificate which vouches for the fact, hanging it against the most conspicuous part of the chamber - under the clock being the spot preferred; but the marriage fee daunts them.' ['At A Penny Wedding']

James Greenwood (c.1835-1927) was one of eleven children, born to a Lambeth coach trimmer. His elder brother Frederick, initially apprenticed to a publishing/printing firm, became a writer and editor; and it was under his brother's guidance that Greenwood wrote an article entitled 'A Night in a Workhouse' (pub. Pall Mall Gazette, 12-15 January 1866). This was a ground-breaking piece of undercover reporting, in which Greenwood spent the night in a 'casual ward' disguised as a pauper. In the style of the period, the article was anonymous, with Greenwood bestowing on himself the soubriquet of 'The Amateur Casual'. The article's exposι of maladministration and wretched conditions — and the exotic manner in which the information was gathered — sealed the author's reputation overnight.

Greenwood went on to enjoy a long career, moving to the Daily Telegraph, writing pieces which often focussed on the condition of the poor, and peculiarities of London life. He also wrote 'adventure' books, both fictional and non-fiction, with such 'Boy's Own' titles as Wild Sports of the World, The Hatchet Throwers, Curiosities of Savage Life and The Adventures of Reuben Davidger - Seventeen Years and Four Months Captive among the Dyaks of Borneo.

The Wilds of London collects some of his best and most intriguing metropolitan journalism: a visit to the whore-ridden, sailor-fleecing alleys of 'Tiger Bay'; interviews with paupers in the 'stone-yards' where they met the parish 'labour test'; inside a Whitechapel sugar-baking factory; a detailed first-person account from a prisoner who spent three years in various Victorian gaols, from Newgate to Portland; the midnight burial of a suicide; the abuses of the Caledonian Road Horse Market; a typical evening with a 'night cabman' - and many more. Together they combine to paint a vivid and unforgettable picture of lowlife London.


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Victorian London Ebooks No.8

The Diary of a Murder

by Lee Jackson

"No one knows Victorian London as Lee Jackson does - historical fiction doesn't come more authentic than this." -- Andrew Taylor

Jacob Jones is a respectable clerk at the Crystal Palace Company, with a pretty young bride and a delightful new home in Islington. Yet, when his wife is found murdered, everything points to his guilt, even a handwritten confession.

The police discover Jacob Jones's diary, which reveals a litany of secrets. They learn of a husband trying to bury his sordid past; a wife afflicted by a deep personal tragedy; an unlikely love affair that leads to a fatal conclusion.

Is Jones' diary a confession? An attempt to exonerate himself? A study in madness?

Read the police investigation — read the diary itself — and uncover the truth.


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Victorian London Ebooks No.7

The Journal of a Disappointed Man

by W.N.P. Barbellion


"One of the great English diarists."

Bruce Frederick Cummings, or, to use his exotic and somewhat comical pseudonym Wilhelm Nero Pilate Barbellion (1889-1919) is undoubtedly one of the finest diarists that England has produced. The chances are, however, that you have never heard of him; so why is he worthy of such praise?

Cummings was born in Barnstaple, Devon, in 1889, an ambitious, self-taught naturalist, who gave up his career in journalism for a prestigious post at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. He was undoubtedly respected in his work at the museum, in a branch of entomology, and provided advice on the pressing subject of louse infestation to the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War One. He was not, however, by any means a famous public figure; and his diary contains nothing of the great and the good, with the solitary exception being an awkward luncheon with a minor aristocrat, ruined by an unfortunate faux pas ('It was a Turkish cigarette with one end plugged up with cotton-wool — to absorb the nicotine — a thing I've never seen before. I was so flurried at the time that I did not notice this and lit the wrong end.')

Does this book's strength lie in social history? Certainly, it contains some fascinating detail about life in Edwardian London — a visit to Petticoat Lane; a working-class mother breast-feeding on an omnibus; Zeppelin raids; a visit to the White City ('systematically went through all the thrills — from the Mountain Railway to the Wiggle Woggle and the 'Witching Waves') — but these are not the meat of the book. The core is Cummings/Barbellion himself: his own life history; his warped sense of humour; his struggle with multiple sclerosis (a condition, initially kept from him by well-meaning doctors, which thwarted his career and lead to his untimely death); his own excoriating self-analysis/dissection of his motives and character. His prose, full of wry wit and humour, is also exceptional. If you doubt this, consider that H.G.Wells, who offered a preface to the printed book, was widely believed to be the author behind the unlikely pseudonym.

In short, the beauty of Journal of a Disappointed Man is Barbellion's personality shining through every aspect of his writing. One is often reminded of the late, great Kenneth Williams — Barbellion is a not dissimilar character, capable of the same degree of self-observation, humour and pathos. We have the obsessive chronicling of ill-health ('At present I arrange two gunpowder plots a week. It's abominable. Best literature for the latrine: picture puzzles.'); comical vanity ('Few people, except my barber, know how amorous I am. He has to shave my sinuous lips.'); flashes of wisdom ('Real happiness lies in the little things, in a bit of garden work, the rattle of the teacups in the next room, the last chapter of a book.'); a dollop of misanthropy ('It is now one hour before I need leave for the meeting, and whether I sigh, cough, smoke, or read the paper, she goes on. She even refuses to allow me to scan the lines below photos in the Illustrated London News. I write this as the last sole resource to escape her devastating prattle and the ceaseless hum of her tiny gnat like mind. She thinks — because I told her so — that I am preparing notes for the evening meeting.'). We have the author agonising over the prospect of marriage, proclaiming his own cynicism ('Last evening, after much mellifluous cajolery, induced her to kiss me. My private opinion about this whole affair is that all the time I have been at least twenty degrees below real love heat. In any case I am constitutionally and emotionally unfaithful. I said things which I did not believe just because it was dark and she was charming.') and yet, once wed, he is capable of the most romantic notions ('Each day I drop a specially selected Buttercup in past the little 'Peeler,' at the apex of the 'V' to lie among the blue ribbons of her camisoles — those dainty white leaves that wrap around her bosom like the petals around the heart of a Rose. Then at night when she undresses, it falls out and she preserves it.')

Most importantly, what emerges is a complex, rounded picture of the 'disappointed man' himself — a man to whose company you become accustomed, warts and all. By the book's end, I guarantee that you will long for the author to continue telling his story and, however impossible, to defeat the illness that overcomes him.

If it is any comfort, despite the final entry of this book proclaiming the author's death, Cummings, although much debilitated, did not die until two years later in 1919 — he staged his own literary death to provide the fitting ending to his journal. He lived to see his writing published and praised. To know that he is still being read a century later would doubtless please him even more.   


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Victorian London Ebooks No.6

Twice Round the Clock

Twenty Four Hours in Victorian London

by George Augustus Sala

Twice Round the Clock is the defining work of George Augustus Sala (1828-1895) — a tour of 1850s London sights and sounds — one chapter for each hour of the day — published in 1859.

Sala was a prolific journalist, one of Dickens's protιgιs at the magazine 'Household Words': a colourful character, a bon viveur who seemed to spend much of his life on the cusp of bankruptcy. He was known for his drunken habits and quarrelsome manner. It is not insignificant, perhaps, that much of his early writing provides graphic descriptions of different examples of the capital's pubs and gin palaces.

'Twice Round the Clock' itself is something of a masterpiece. Written in over-wrought, exaggerated prose, full of Classical and literary allusions — rather rich, even by Victorian standards — it remains fascinating reading for anyone who loves either the ebullient language and literature of the mid-Victorian period or its social history. Sala himself chose to pre-empt his critics in the book's preface, damning his own work, with heavy irony, as: 'flippant, pretentious, superficial and yet arrogant of knowledge; verbose without being eloquent; crabbed without being quaint; redundant without being copious in illustration; full of paradoxes not extenuated by originality; and of jocular expressions not relieved by humour'. In fact, Sala's writing reveals not one iota of self-doubt, except submerged in his patent desire to impress and entertain the reader — a task in which he succeeds.

There are many, many gems herein for the social historian. To take some random examples, here we have Sala on the food enjoyed by Victorian gentlemen when dining out:

"See the pyramids of dishes arrive; the steaming succession of red-hot chops, with their brown, frizzling caudal appendages sobbing hot tears of passionate fat. See the serene kidneys unsubdued, though grilled, smiling though cooked, weltering proudly in their noble gravy, like warriors who have fallen upon the field of honour. See the hot yellow lava of the Welsh rabbit stream over and engulf the timid toast. Sniff the fragrant vapour of the corpulent sausage. Mark how the russet leathern-coated baked potato at first defies the knife, then gracefully cedes, and through a lengthened gash yields its farinaceous effervescence to the influence of butter and catsup. The only refreshments present open to even a suspicion of effeminacy are the poached eggs, glistening like suns in a firmament of willow-pattern plate; and those too, I am willing to believe, are only taken by country-gentlemen hard pressed by hunger, just to 'stay their stomachs,' while the more important chops and kidneys are being prepared."

Or here he describes, marvellously, the typical young foppish man-about-town of the period:

"'Swells.' I use the term advisedly, for none other can so minutely characterise them. Long, stern, solemn, languid, with drooping tawny moustaches, with faultlessly made habiliments, with irreproachable white neckcloths, with eyes half-closed, with pendant arms, with feet enclosed in mirror-like patent boots, the "swells" saunter listlessly through the ball-room with a quiet consciousness that all these dazzling frivolities are provided for their special gratification — which indeed they are."

I should note that I have toyed with Sala's text in two small ways — I hope he forgives me. First, I have moved the author's lengthy dedication/preface to the end of the book (where so many prefaces belong); second, I have added a brief explanatory sub-title, lest 'Twice Round the Clock' seem too mysterious to browsing readers. In exculpation for these changes, I have retained the forty-six illustrations by William M'Connel which graced the original.

I hope is that this digital copy may bring both Sala and 'Twice Round the Clock' the wider audience they deserve.


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Victorian London Ebooks No.5

The Seven Curses of London

by James Greenwood

"To certain squeamish readers this useful and well-written volume will prove an unsavoury book; and even to those who have the nerve to witness agony and explore the lurking-places of crime, it will occasion no ordinary sadness and sense of repugnance. Redolent with the unwholesome smell of ill-drained alleys and over-crowded dwellings for the poor, it resounds in every chapter with the cries of violence and the mutterings of woe ..." [review of The Seven Curses of London from the Athenaeum, 1869]

James Greenwood (c.1835-1927) was one of eleven children, born to a Lambeth coach trimmer. His elder brother Frederick, initially apprenticed to a publishing/printing firm, became a writer and editor; and it was under his brother's guidance that Greenwood wrote an article entitled 'A Night in a Workhouse' (pub. Pall Mall Gazette, 12-15 January 1866). This was a ground-breaking piece of undercover reporting, in which Greenwood spent the night in a 'casual ward' disguised as a pauper. In the style of the period, the article was anonymous, with Greenwood bestowing on himself the soubriquet of 'The Amateur Casual'. The article's exposι of maladministration and wretched conditions — and the exotic manner in which the information was gathered — sealed the author's reputation overnight.

Greenwood would continue to expose various aspects of London 'low life' for several decades, writing for the Pall Mall Gazette and then the Daily Telegraph. Many of these were anthologised into book form, but The Seven Curses of London was written as a single campaigning work, designed to stimulate debate about the manifold evils which beset the urban poor. It is not, however, a simple tract and the book includes many of the staples of Greenwood's distinctive style of journalism, including investigative reporting and interviews.

The 'Curses' themselves are: 1. Neglected Children 2. Professional Thieves 3. Professional Beggars 4. Fallen Women 5. Drunkenness 6. Betting Gamblers 7. Waste of Charity. There is more of Greenwood's 'undercover' work, including a visit to a 'baby-farmer' — one of those women who advertised in the press to 'adopt' unwanted children for a fee (the fate of such unfortunates was often criminal abuse or neglect). Other vivid passages include interviews with convicts; begging-letter writers; harangues against the corrupting influence of penny dreadfuls (sample prose: "... pouting coral lips, in which a thousand tiny imps of love are lurking ..."); the unfortunate class of prostitutes known as 'dress-lodgers'; a full list of the ingredients used to adulterate beer ("... Multum is a mixture of opium and other ingredients, used to increase the intoxicating qualities of the liquor ... "); a survey of betting scams ("... Mr. Ben W. will forfeit £500 if he does not send first and second for the Chester Cup. Send four stamps and stamped envelope, and promise a present, and I will send you the Chester Cup, Great Northern, Derby, and Oaks winners ...") and a good deal more. All of these combine to paint a revealing picture of life in 1860s London, making this book worthy of your attention.


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Victorian London Ebooks No.4

Daily Life in Victorian London :
An Extraordinary Anthology

edited by Lee Jackson

An anthology of fascinating Victoriana, meticulously compiled from the ever-popular Dictionary of Victorian London site ...


This anthology has one simple goal: to give the reader a flavour of 'how life was lived' in Victorian London, through the words of the Victorians themselves. It is not a comprehensive study; but I have revisited an archive of ten years' reading and research — nineteenth century diaries, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, guidebooks — in an attempt to include as many diverse aspects of Victorian life as possible. There is, I must admit, a certain bias in my choice of material: I concentrate on the poor and middle-class. Queen Victoria is glimpsed at a distance, in Hyde Park; MPs and members of the aristocracy appear as the patrons of charities; but this is a book about the everyday.

Some of these excerpts make for rather grim reading: the graphic account of a botched back-street abortion; the plight of homeless children, abandoned by their parents; the fever-ridden slums of Jacob's Island. Crime is also to the fore: attempts at blackmail; the rise of the 'hooligan' in Lambeth; the vicious malice of the 'vitriol thrower'. Likewise, it is impossible to neglect the scourge of prostitution in the capital, albeit with one rare instance of a 'soiled dove' who 'made good'. I have, therefore, included a few gratuitous doses of quirky Victoriana, to leaven the mix: advice on keeping pet squirrels; the invention of the snail telegraph (the supposed power of 'escargotic vibration'); how to make tooth powder (with the obligatory drop of cocaine).

I also focus on street life. Hence you will find articles about the giant 'advertising vans' which blocked major thoroughfares; races between rival omnibus companies; the wall painters who engaged in 'guerilla advertising'; the delights of Victorian fast food (sheep's trotters, anyone?). This book, at its best, should provide a vicarious form of time travel. The reader will feel, I hope, that they have walked the streets of Victorian London and, having read the more intimate passages — how to remove bed-bugs; tips on wet-nursing; dire warnings against 'secret vice' — that they have also glimpsed behind closed doors. Some things herein may appear quaint — complaints against the immorality of the 'can-can'; disdain for women practising 'bloomerism' (ie. wearing trousers); the unlikely forfeits demanded by parlour games — but they all throw a revealing light on the distinctive mores of the time.

I hope, too, that a few things will surprise and astonish, to the extent that they seem almost unbelievable (although, rest assured, this work contains no fabrications). Have you ever heard of the enterprising showman who started his 'Jack the Ripper' chamber of horrors in Whitechapel, within weeks of the 1888 murders? Or the peculiar safeguards afforded by corsets? Or the bar-maids who worked in Underground stations? Or the first (and last) Mesmeric Hospital established in London?

It may seem presumptuous to call this an extraordinary anthology; yet it is the extraordinary details of daily life in the 'Great Metropolis' that continue to fascinate me. My only wish is that the reader may share my enthusiasm.

Lee Jackson

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         in the UK Kindle store 89p

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         in the US Kindle store $1.56


Victorian London Ebooks No.3

Curiosities of London Life

by Charles Manby Smith

"Here is a faithful portrait gallery for the political economist, the patriot, and the philanthropist, eager to study London life and London characters; who are here portrayed with the drollest fidelity, and yet so as to make the student a sadder and wiser man." [a contemporary review of Curiosities of London Life]

Charles Manby Smith was born the son of a struggling cabinet-maker in Bristol, 1804, and apprenticed to a printer. The 1820s were a time of high unemployment, and he was obliged to look for work in London and then Paris, where he was finally employed by the famous printer Firmin Didot. He returned to England to avoid the 1830 'July Revolution'. He was reportedly 'indefatigable in self-improvement', having only received a very modest education as a boy. He began to write articles for the burgeoning periodicals market, abandoning his earlier profession and living solely by the pen. His articles, focusing on the London poor, were a regular feature in the Leisure Hour (a popular magazine, founded in 1852) although, in the fashion of the period, they were printed anonymously. He died in Loraine Road, Holloway, in 1880.

This first collection was published in 1853. It has many parallels with both Dickens's Sketches by Boz and later journalism, as well as Henry Mayhew's famous study of the London poor, published on a few years previously. The great joy of the book is in its variety of subject matter. Some of the characters are familiar enough - crossing-sweeps, mudlarks et al. - but Manby Smith ranges further afield. There is, for instance, a piece about the Eastender's unlikely love of angling; the progress of a failing but 'obstinate' shop, which has been everything from a fishmonger's to a confectioner's (and never made a shilling for any of its proprietors); the 'grand army' of City clerks, who 'wield weapons proverbially thirsty, and dripping all day long with gore, both black and red'; and a marvellous description of a London Christmas in 1851 (as 'commercialised' as anything we have today).

Manby Smith is particularly good on the details of daily life. He describes, for example, the advertisements for Christmas presents which perennially appear in December:

'... a monster line in the posters on the walls and in the shop-windows. Infantine appeals in gigantic type cover the hoardings. "Do, Papa, Buy Me" so-and-so; so-and-so being blotted out in a few hours by "The New Patent Wig," so that the appeal remains a perplexing puzzle to affectionate parents, till both are in turn blotted out by a third poster, announcing the sacrifice of 120,000 gipsy cloaks and winter mantles at less than half the cost-price ...'

He chronicles passing trends, like the disappearance of the street pieman and the rise of the penny pie-shop:

'They abound especially in the immediate neighbourhood of omnibus and cab stations, and very much in the thoroughfares and short - cuts most frequented by the middle and lower classes. But though the window may be of plate-glass, behind which piles of the finest fruit, joints, and quarters of the best meat, a large dish of silver eels, and a portly china bowl charged with a liberal heap of minced-meat, with here and there a few pies, lie temptingly arranged upon napkins of snowy whiteness, yet there is not a chair, stool, or seat of any kind to be found within.'

Like Dickens and Mayhew, he also tackles the staple of the period's 'social investigators' - crime. There are several 'underworld' pieces: ranging from a study of dog-stealers, to 'auction gangs' (of the sort that still occasionally plague Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road to this day).

In short, if you are fascinated by the social history of London and the seemingly inexhaustible variety of Victorian 'low life', then I am confident you will find this a most entertaining read.


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         in the UK Kindle Store 98p

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Victorian London Ebooks No.2

London and Londoners in the 1850s and 1860s

by Alfred Rosling Bennett

'One of the best books about daily life in Victorian London.'

Alfred Rosling Bennett was born on 14th May 1850, and died aged 78, on 24th May 1928. He was a pioneering electrical engineer, remembered by the Times' obituarist for his groundbreaking work in telephony. In 1877, for example, he connected the Canterbury Music hall in Lambeth to the Queen's Theatre in Long Acre, via an overhead telephone line - the first such experiment carried out in London.

London and Londoners in the 1850s and 1860s is not, however, about Rosling Bennett's career. The book begins with his early childhood in Islington and focuses, almost exclusively, on daily life in the mid-Victorian metropolis. For example, selecting at random from the first few chapters, we learn about the interiors of omnibuses: "The floor was covered with a thick layer of straw - in imitation of stage-coach practice - dry and clean every morning, but, as may readily be supposed, in wet weather damp, dirty, and smelly for the rest of the day. It was warm for the feet and kept out draughts, but promoted a too-evident stuffiness, especially when the let-down window of the door was up and the portal itself closed - there were no microbes to worry us in those days - and if a sixpence or a four-pennybit were dropped the chance of recovering it was small indeed."  and the delivery of milk: "Now and then, a man and girl driving a couple of very clean cows came round and drew milk from the udder straight into customers' jugs, or at least into a measure that was at once emptied into the jugs. That might be supposed to be a very direct, honest procedure, calculated to render adulteration laws vain and nugatory; but our milkman said that if people could only see the quantity of water 'them poor cows' were compelled to drink before starting, they would cease to wonder that the milk was so thin and blue."  and the range of popular 1850s 'treatments' for cholera, namely "acorns, mustard plasters, castor-oil, laughing-gas, cold mutton broth, and hot mint-tea. "

Victorian memoirs are often very dull things, regaling one with bland tales about meetings with famous folk, assorted commonplaces and platitudes. Rosling Bennett, on the other hand, from the vantage of the 'modern era' of the 1920s, applies a scientific rigour to the memories of his youth. He disdains singing his own praises for telling the reader about barbers touting "bear's grease" as the essential hair-oil (one enterprising hair-dresser even displaying a live bear to woo customers); or a detailed description of police uniform; or a paragraph about the itinerant sellers of draught excluders - the list is endless.

I have encountered no comparable work which conveys the same amount of intriguing information about daily life in the Victorian city, in such a concise and pleasurable manner. For that reason, I commend this book to the reader.


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Victorian London Ebooks No.1

The Hooligan Nights

by Clarence Rook

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

'The Hooligan Nights' by Clarence Rook (1899) is a classic contemporary description of crime on the streets of 1890s Lambeth. The book is told through a series of interviews with its teenage protagonist, the charismatic 'Alf' - we learn about his upbringing, his criminal exploits, including burglary, pickpocketing, passing counterfeit money and bare-knuckle fights. Alf is a magnificent character, full of spirit and charm, but capable of evoking our pity. Each interview leaves the reader wanting to know more about his fate - not least, will the 'coppers' catch up with him? The book is a unique description of 'low life', written at the zenith of Queen's Victoria's reign, achieved without sentiment or moralising. Was Alf a real boy, an amalgam of different people, or a work of pure fiction? There are no definitive answers to this puzzle, but he remains one of the great 'lost' characters of English fiction.