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  • Exploding Pipes March 20, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
    Exploding Pipes

    Bored, got nothing to do? Here’s a thought. Why not blind a friend for a lark? There are a couple score newspaper stories from 1850-1950 of workmen, companions and complete strangers giving victims pipes that have been doctored with gunpowder. Typically the smoker puts a match to the shag of tobacco, takes a deep breath and […]

    Victorian Urban Legend: The Egg Ring March 16, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Urban Legend: The Egg Ring

    Beach has recently been looking at ring stories in his quest for Victorian urban legends. Here is one that sounds simply impossible: though if any poultry experts want to contradict: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com A doctor, residing in Moringa, in Australia, writes to the Revue Sanitaire to solicit the attention of naturalists to the […]

    Working Class Professors in the Nineteenth Century February 24, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Working Class Professors in the Nineteenth Century

    Imagine that you are born in the industrial heartlands of England to a working class family in the mid nineteenth-century. Aged six you are already sent out to earn a crust: let’s say you have to drive a donkey for a cruel master. You never get an education worth the name and still by your […]

    Victorian Criminal Slang January 8, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
    Victorian Criminal Slang

    Beach has been enjoying Pickpockets, Beggars and Ratcatchers by Kellow Chesney on London’s underworld in the teeming, dirty and unmatchable nineteenth century: the illustrations are great too. One of the joys about entering this world is the lively slang used by the underclass. The following come from Pickpockets but also from one of the most […]

    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 […]

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