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  • 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 […]

    Letters from a Witch’s Clients January 25, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Letters from a Witch's Clients

    In 1859 a unique witchcraft source appeared in the British newspapers. Durham police had raided the house of one Mrs Leadpiper and had seized a number of letters from her supplicants. To our great good fortune the Durham Chronicle published several: and the article was then picked up by other papers from Cornwall to Luton. […]

    Victorian Urban Legends: Coffin Games January 18, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Urban Legends: Coffin Games

    ***Dedicated to Chris W*** Beach in his tiny hours of research ran across two accounts that feel like Victorian urban legends: a favourite theme of this blog. Note the lack of concrete references. These look as if they were included in a joke column and then recycled as news with some salacious details thrown in… A Sheffield […]

    Self Made Victorians? January 9, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Self Made Victorians?

    Were there self made men in Victorian Britain? The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as well as being the single most impressive collection of biographies yet put together is useful in measuring money as for most modern individuals, say from the eighteenth century onwards, the vox-writer has included wealth at death (something recorded in Britain […]

    London Polt October 21, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    London Polt

    We are in London in 1847, in a religious family. The whole of the neighbourhood of Black Lion Lane, Bayswater is ringing with the extraordinary occurrences that have recently happened in the house of Mr. Williams in the Moscow Road, and which bear a strong resemblance to the celebrated Stockwell ghost affair in 1772. The […]

    Ghost Pills! October 6, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Ghost Pills!

    How do you get rid of supernatural worries: call the priest, the alienist or the local bobby? Why no, you buy a tube of nineteenth-century vitamin pill, of course! This at least was the solution offered by one Irish newspaper in 1840. The belief in supernatural appearances has generally prevailed during the superstitious ages has […]

    Victorian Urban Legend: the Clever Pickpocket September 18, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Urban Legend: the Clever Pickpocket

    Beach has recently been searching for nineteenth-century urban legends, a real challenge because the category did not exist as an idea, though of course incredible ‘true’ stories circulated. Perhaps this is one of them. The pickpocket who is so clever that he or she puts the wallet back once everything is stolen. Folkestone is filling […]

    Fantasy Britain by OS Maps September 9, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Fantasy Britain by OS Maps

    OK this is weird little game. Beach has spent many hours in the last two months looking at nineteenth-century OS maps, that is maps produced by the Ordnance Survey, the government body that is responsible for charting Britain, and back in the day, Ireland. The maps are beautiful, they lack the gaudy colours of today […]

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