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  • Victorian Urban Legend: Pickpocket Death November 28, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Urban Legend: Pickpocket Death

    Beach has taken great joy over the years in celebrating the Victorian pickpocket. This figure, a positive urban legend magnet, offers a lot of fun to the casual reader. Here is a particularly nice story, the hero (or antagonist?) is Mr White a good and honest preacher. He has been told that a man is dying […]

    The Origins of Canard November 7, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Origins of Canard

    Busy day here so Beach will just offer this short piece about the origin of the word ‘canard’. If true this is really a late eighteenth-century urban legend; if false it is a canard about a canard. First the basics, canard, the French for duck, came to mean any false story in nineteenth-century English. But […]

    Victorian Urban Legend: the Wrong Pocket November 5, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Urban Legend: the Wrong Pocket

      This wrong pocket story sounds like an urban legend though there are a worrying number of exact facts. Beach is going to try and turn up the story elsewhere and see if it is repeated. Any help? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com During the running at the Cartmel (North Lancashire) Steeplechases Meeting on Whit-Monday, Mr. Ratcliffe. […]

    Skinny White: the Cleverest Pickpocket in Europe October 28, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Skinny White: the Cleverest Pickpocket in Europe

    Beach continues to enjoy pickpocket stories. This one was told of James White (skinny White) a pickpocket, who died in 1895 and who was ‘the cleverest pickpocket in Europe’. His obituary is willfully quiet about some of his exploits. It for example, tells us nothing of the ‘curious tales’ about his fun at Monte Carlo. […]

    Crash Ghosts October 27, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Crash Ghosts

    In 2008 that hoary old newspaper of the British right, The Daily Telegraph, all cobwebs and fox hunting, included a fascinating piece on a car-crashing ghost. Here follows a very brief edited version: Paranormal researchers are investigating the sightings of a girl in Victorian dress on a road in the West Midlands, which locals say […]

    Witch Wars in Devon! July 15, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Witch Wars in Devon!

    1869, the Empire is at its height, teeming millions walk through Britain’s mighty metropolises and out in the Devon countryside the locals are consulting witches. A witchcraft case reported from South Devon. Two or three young women living at Dittisham fell ill. Their mothers, thinking they had been illwished – that is, looked upon with […]

    Victorian Urban Legends: A Sexual Misunderstanding June 11, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Urban Legends: A Sexual Misunderstanding

    Beach has long searched for erotic or sexually-charged Victorian urban legends in vain. It is not, of course, that the Victorians didn’t tell them. The problem is that the Victorians seem to have been averse to putting them into print. Only the wrong bed sometimes emerges. But what about this: ‘the kiss-me misunderstanding’? As the […]

    Urban Legends: Saved by Thieves May 13, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Urban Legends: Saved by Thieves

    Another in our Victorian Urban Legends series. This looks like the ancestor (or more likely one of the many ancestors) of the modern Mafia Neighbours, story. You know the one, young married couple move into the neighbourhood, all their new furniture is stolen while they are on their honeymoon, but when they tell an elderly […]

    Praying a Child to Death March 22, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Praying a Child to Death

    This is particularly strange case from 1893. We are in the far north east of England, but in an urban area and not one particularly associated with witchcraft. Difficult to interpret this in any way: mental illness does not work (easily) because there were two miscreants. Help gratefully received. At the South Shields Police Court, […]

    Late Somerset Witch Caught as Rabbit March 6, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Late Somerset Witch Caught as Rabbit

    Beach has long tradition of posts of unusual nineteenth-century accounts of the survival of witchcraft in Britain and Ireland. Here is one from Bridgewater, Somerset (the south-west), which appeared in Notes and Queries in 1853. A cottager, who does not live five minutes’ walk from my house, found his pig seized with a strange and […]

    Urban Legend: the Clock Trick February 24, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Urban Legend: the Clock Trick

    One newspaper report includes this precious Victorian story, which Beach has been unable to track down elsewhere. It is satisfying so there must be other versions out there. There is an old story of a thief who, engaging the landlord of a country tavern a bet that he could not sit in front of clock […]

    Victorian Cannabis Use February 15, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Cannabis Use

    Cannabis became illegal in the United Kingdom once the 1925 Dangerous Drug Acts came into force in 1928. However, before that there was a long tradition of ‘hemp’ smoking in the country: mainly for medicinal reasons. Regrettably we know little about British hemp-smokers. Victorian interest in opium often reached almost hysterical levels: but interest in […]

    Dying from Fright: Women and the Weak Minded? February 14, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Dying from Fright: Women and the Weak Minded?

    A lazy morning and so Beach inspired by his recent post of a girl who died of fear decided to look a little deeper. How many people really die because they are frightened? To carry out a half decent experiment he surveyed the British press from January 1850 to December 1859. He ignored probable urban […]

    Death by Boggart (or Meningitis)? February 7, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Death by Boggart (or Meningitis)?

    This is a one of these stories where the problem is not with the facts but with interpretation. As it involves human facts it is not a very happy story: be warned a little girl dies. We are in 1871 in Ashton-under-Lyne just outside Manchester. Mr F. Price is the coroner and he held his […]

    The Matrimony Business February 6, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    The Matrimony Business

    You are living in the middle of the nineteenth century and, man or woman, you have failed to get your mate for life. Perhaps you regret, saying, ‘no’ to the third son of a duke: or perhaps you regret asking twelve daughters of men in ecclesiastical offices. The point is that, tick toc, time is running […]

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